17 June 2022


In this issue of zoom-in brief, in the US, Roy Moore is seeking to revive his claim against Sacha Baron Cohen over ‘paedophile device’ skit; judgment is awaited on preliminary issues in Prince Harry’s defamation case against the publishers of the Mail; whilst Leave.EU campaigner Arron Banks loses his defamation claim against journalist Carole Cadwalladr.

Editorial credit: Tinseltown/shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: Tinseltown/shutterstock.com
Sacha Baron Cohen

US – Libel – Former Judge Roy Moore seeks to revive claim against Sacha Baron Cohen

Former Alabama judge and Senate candidate Roy Moore has asked a Manhattan appeals court to revive his defamation claim against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. The claim relates to Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy series Who is America in which Baron Cohen portrays fictional characters. In the segment in which Moore appeared, Baron Cohen, pretended to be an Israeli anti-terrorism expert, who had a wand-like device which he claimed could detect ‘sex offenders and particularly paedophiles’. The device seemed to beep near Moore.

Moore’s claim was originally dismissed in July 2021, when the judge said it did not defame him as it was clearly a joke. The court said it should have been ‘abundantly clear’ to viewers that Baron Cohen was using humour to comment on accusations in the news at the time of sexual misconduct made against Moore including with a minor. The sexual misconduct allegations, denied by Moore, were made against him during his 2017 Senate race and are alleged to have contributed to his loss.

Moore is seeking to revive the libel case, which began in September 2018 with Moore claiming $95 million in damages.

Moore’s lawyer argued that calling someone a paedophile was a heinous accusation, worse than labelling them a murderer, and said ‘people jump off buildings over that’. He said his client should have his day in court in front of a jury, even comparing him to Johnny Depp, who recently succeeded in a US defamation claim against his ex-wife Amber Heard. Moore’s lawyer argued that his client was tricked into the interview.

Baron Cohen’s lawyer said that Moore had signed a release for the show, which appeared to prevent him from making defamation claims. The release disclaimed reliance on ‘any representation made about who these people are and what they’re up to’, one of the panel of three judges noted. Baron Cohen’s lawyer also said that what Baron Cohen did ‘is the classic satirical commentary that is fully protected by the First Amendment.’

The court’s decision was reserved.  zoom-in will report on any further developments in future bulletins.

Libel – Prince Harry awaits meaning outcome in latest claim against the Mail

Prince Harry is awaiting a decision over whether a Mail on Sunday article is defamatory of him. The preliminary hearing is in the Duke’s latest legal claim against Associated Newspapers, the publishers of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Mail Online. Prince Harry previously accepted ‘substantial damages’ and an apology from Associated to settle a claim over an article alleging that he had ‘turned his back’ on the Royal Marines after he stepped down as a senior member of the Royal family in 2020.  His wife, the Duchess of Sussex, also had success against Associated in her privacy and copyright claim over the publication of a handwritten letter she had sent to her father, Thomas Markle.

Prince Harry’s latest claim relates to articles published in the Mail on Sunday and online, with the online headline: ‘Exclusive: How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the Government over police bodyguards a secret … then – just minutes after the story broke – his PR machine tried to put a positive spin on the dispute.’ The article was about the Duke’s separate legal fight over his and his family’s security protection whilst in the UK.

Prince Harry claims the articles accused him of lying in his initial public statements by saying that he had always been willing to pay for police protection whilst in the UK, whereas in fact he had only made that offer more recently after the dispute had begun and after his June 2021 visit to the UK. He also claims the articles meant he ‘improperly and cynically tried to manipulate and confuse public opinion by authorising his ‘spin doctors’ to put out false and misleading statements about his willingness to pay for police protection immediately after the Mail on Sunday had revealed he was suing the government’. In relation to secrecy, the Duke says the Mail accused him of trying to keep his legal fight secret from the public, ‘including the fact that he expected British taxpayers to pay for his police protection, in a way which was improper and showed a lack of transparency on his part’.

Prince Harry says these allegations are defamatory and have caused him substantial and continuing hurt, embarrassment and distress.

Associated disputes the claim and says the article contained ‘no hint of impropriety’. Whilst the newspaper accepted that the articles allege the Duke’s PR team spun the story, it maintains the primary criticism was of Prince Harry’s advisors, not him, and then not in terms of impropriety or dishonesty. Associated’s barrister told the court that the articles would not be understood by the ‘reasonable reader’ in the way Prince Harry claims, and were not defamatory.

The judge, Mr Justice Nicklin, will also decide whether the words complained of in the articles were fact or opinion, and whether they are defamatory at common law. He will hand down judgment at a later date.

Libel – Arron Banks loses libel action against journalist Carole Cadwalladr

Brexit campaigner Arron Banks has lost a libel action he brought against journalist Carole Cadwalladr over a TED talk and a tweet which commented on Mr Banks’ relationship with Russia.

At an earlier hearing a judge had found that the words in the TED talk and tweet meant that: ‘On more than one occasion Mr Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian government in relation to acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding.’ Ms Cadwalladr said that she did not intend to make that allegation, accepted it was not true and dropped her defence of truth to rely upon a defence of publication in the public interest.

At trial the judge found the TED talk had caused serious harm to Mr Banks’ reputation, but the tweet had not. She found that the TED talk was on a matter of public interest, was political expression, and that Ms Cadwalladr believed publication was in the public interest. A major point of contention was whether Ms Cadwalladr’s belief was reasonable. The court found that it was. Given that she had not intended to convey the more serious meaning which the court had found and did not appreciate that her words could carry that meaning, the public interest defence was to be assessed having regard to her intended meaning. Ms Cadwalladr’s intended meaning was that: ‘(i) the claimant lied on more than one occasion about a secret relationship he had with the Russian government; and (ii) there are questions to be asked (i.e. grounds to investigate) whether the source of his donations was foreign funding, accepted in breach of the law on the funding of electoral campaigns.’ The court found that at the time of the TED talk Ms Cadwalladr had reasonable grounds to believe that this intended meaning was true.

There was a significant change in circumstance once the Electoral Commission and the National Crime Agency found no evidence that Banks had broken the law. Therefore after that time Cadwalladr’s belief that publication of the TED Talk was in the public interest was not reasonable. However, the judge then went on to separately assess whether the continuing publication of the TED Talk after this time caused serious harm to Mr Banks’ reputation, and found that it did not. Therefore that part of the claim was also dismissed.

The lawsuit has been described by some as a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) but the judge rejected this characterisation, saying the case was legitimate. Ms Cadwalladr welcomed the judgment, and Mr Banks indicated that he was likely to seek to appeal.

Sheffield DocFest


Sheffield DocFest – the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects – invites audiences and industry to ‘ReConnect’ with documentary – and each other – in Sheffield, 23-28 June.

Programme Highlights include:

  • 38 World Premieres, 22 International Premieres, 11 European Premieres in the film programme including new works by Emma Davie, Werner Herzog and Rodrigo Reyes.
  • 5 World Premieres, 6 International Premieres, 3 European Premieres in the Alternate Realities programme of technologically innovative non-fiction and immersive documentaries including new works by Jad Abumrad, Dries Depoorter and  Rachel Briscoe.
  • Headline talks from Guest Curator Asif Kapadia with editor Chris King; Brett Morgen (Moonage Daydream), Pratibha Parmar (My Name is Andrea) and David Olusoga: (StoryTrails)
  • Key Broadcaster talks include the BBC Interview: with the renowned journalist, newsreader and presenter; Clive Myrie; the Channel 4 Interview: with Will Young who will be discussing the recent documentary Losing My Twin Rupert;  and the ITV Interview: with the British Paralympian swimmer, Ellie Simmonds.

The three Special Programmes that headline this year’s selection are:

Ukraine. Password: Palianytsia

In solidarity with Ukraine, Sheffield DocFest collaborated with Docudays UA – the Ukraine’s leading international human rights documentary festival – to present Password: Palianytsia. This programme. will launch the British Council and Ukrainian Institute’s ‘UK/Ukraine Season of Culture.’ It provides a powerful encounter with contemporary Ukrainian life – including the horrific reality of the Russian invasion and the current war.

A Documentary Journey with Asif Kapadia

Sheffield DocFest’s 2022 Guest Curator, award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia, selects documentaries that had significant impact for him, inspiring his own style and creative choices. Highlights include Martin Scorsese’s Italianamerican, Jean Bach’s A Great Day in Harlem, and When We Were Kings – about the boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.

Co-Creation: Changing our World

Curated with Katerina Cizek at MIT’s Open Documentary Lab’s Co-Creation Studio, this programme illuminates the practice of making documentary work from within communities and making films with people, rather than for, or about, them. The programme pairs new projects with emblematic works from the past with highlights.

With an Industry Pass, enjoy the full festival programme of films, exhibitions, talks, panels, industry sessions and live pitches, networking events and parties. Industry Passes give access to an exciting line-up of Industry Programme activity including Marketplace and Industry Sessions, specially curated for documentary makers and producers. Whether you’re looking to connect with industry representatives from international festivals, markets and shorts platforms, find co-production partners or get expert advice on budgeting and legal matters, the Marketplace has it all.



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