19 Nov 19 November 2021
In this issue of ZOOM-IN brief, Cardi B’s US libel action over ‘prostitute’ claims is postponed; a man wrongly identified by 7News as the suspect in the Cleo Smith abduction case sues Seven Network in Australia; a former US Apprentice contestant and Donald Trump settle libel action over sexual assault claims; whilst Priti Patel apologises in the High Court after a Home Office press release wrongly labels Dr Salmon Butt an extremist hate preacher.
Defamation (US) –Cardi B defamation Lawsuit Delayed
In the US, a Georgian judge has postponed Cardi B’s defamation lawsuit against vlogger Tasha K, after the New York rapper requested a delay due to a “family emergency”.
The lawsuit, filed in early 2019, is centred on claims that Tasha K accused Cardi B of being a prostitute and having herpes on her unWinewithTashaK YouTube channel.
The trial was due to begin on 9 November in Atlanta, but following a last-minute request from Cardi B, and despite Tasha K asking for the full complaint against her to be dismissed, a Georgian federal judge agreed to push back the start-date. Reports suggest that the trial will now begin in January 2022.
Tasha K maintains that she is a reporter, and that her speech is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. She brought a $3 million countersuit against Cardi B, claiming that the Grammy Award-winning artist had made threats against her: that claim was dismissed in July.
The Tasha K case is not the only litigation in which Cardi B is involved. She is being sued for $5 million by a model, Kevin Brophy Jr, who claims she used an image of his distinctive back tattoo on a mixtape album cover without his permission. Cardi B previously called the lawsuit “nothing but a transparent attempt at a celebrity shakedown”. The case is currently scheduled for trial in February. ZOOM-IN will report on developments in both cases.
Defamation (AUS) – Man wrongly named as suspect in Cleo Smith case sues TVnetwork for defamation
A man wrongly identified by Seven Network as having been taken into custody over the abduction of four-year-old Cleo Smith in Australia is bringing defamation proceedings against the station.
Terrance Flowers, an Aboriginal man who lives in the Western Australian town of Karratha, was mistakenly identified by 7News as a suspect in the case in broadcasts, an online article, a Tweet and a Facebook post on 3 November.
Mr Flowers uses his mother’s maiden name, Kelly, on Facebook. The man actually arrested at the time was Terence Darrell Kelly, who has since been charged over the abduction.
On 16 November, lawyers for Mr Flowers filed a statement of claim in the Western Australian Supreme Court, alleging that the 27-year-old has “been gravely injured in his character and reputation, and has suffered substantial hurt, distress and embarrassment and has and will continue to suffer loss and damage”.
The statement of claim contends that Seven Network took photographs from Mr Flowers’ Facebook page without his consent and published them as part of its broadcast and social media coverage.
In a statement, the law firm representing Mr Flowers said that the publication of his name and photograph led to him, “…becoming the subject of hate and derision around the nation and the world and resulted in his hospitalisation with a severe panic attack”.
7News was alerted to the mistake on the day the publications went out. It apologised online and on air that night, saying that images of Mr Flowers had been “removed promptly”.
Because Western Australia has yet to enact reforms to defamation laws agreed at the national level, Mr Flowers’ lawyers have been able to file his case sooner than is possible in many other Australian states. The reforms require a “concerns notice” to be sent before proceedings are filed and give the prospective defendant 28 days to respond with an offer to make amends.
This is not the first time the media have been accused of accidental defamation by wrongly using the images of innocent persons in stories. In July 2020 the Guardian was forced to apologise after an article referring to repugnant comments made by grime artist Wiley was accompanied by an image of fellow grime pioneer, Kano. Somewhat ironically, the article was titled, “Tackling racism on social media is just the tip of the iceberg”.
And in the last few days, footballers Édouard Mendy and Ferland Mendy have complained about media outlets using their images in reports concerning Manchester City defender, Benjamin Mendy, who is currently facing six counts of rape and one of sexual assault (allegations, it is understood, he denies).
Defamation (US) - Ex-Apprentice contestant drops defamation suit against Donald Trump
A former contestant on The Apprentice who sued ex-US President Donald Trump for defamation when he dismissed her sexual assault claim against him as “lies” has dropped her lawsuit after almost five years.
Summer Zervos had appeared on the reality TV show in 2005. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, she accused Mr Trump of kissing and groping her without her consent in a Beverley Hills hotel room in 2007, after she asked him for career advice.
Mr Trump denied the claims, calling them politically motivated, and rejected allegations of misconduct. In January 2017, Ms Zervos started defamation proceedings against Mr Trump in a New York state court in Manhattan. Mr Trump was seeking to countersue her for “harassing, intimidating, punishing or otherwise maliciously inhibiting” his free speech rights.
On 12 November, a joint document filed in court revealed that the parties had agreed that “all claims and counterclaims asserted in this matter, or that could have been asserted, are hereby dismissed and discontinued in their entirety with prejudice, with each party to bear his or her own costs.”
In a statement, Ms Zervos’s lawyers said: “Today the parties have ended Zervos v. Trump. After five years, Ms Zervos no longer wishes to litigate against the defendant and has secured the right to speak freely about her experience.” They added: “Ms Zervos stands by the allegations in her complaint and has accepted no compensation.”
In a statement shared by the political action committee Save America, Mr Trump said he had been “totally vindicated”. “It is so sad when things like this can happen, but so incredibly important to fight for the truth and justice. Only victory can restore one’s reputation,” the former President said.
No further details regarding the agreement or Ms Zervos’s decision to drop her defamation suit were available.
Defamation – Home Secretary apologises to Dr Salmon Butt, falsely labelled an extremist hate preacher
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has apologised to a Muslim man after a government press release falsely described him as an extremist hate preacher.
The press release, published in September 2015, concerned UK Government measures to stop extremists from radicalising students in universities and colleges. It identified Dr Salman Butt, the chief editor of the Islam21C website, as an extremist hate preacher who legitimised terror, and as someone from whose influence students should be protected.
Dr Butt subsequently brought proceedings against the Home Secretary, including for libel.
In a statement in open court read out on 15 November 2021before Mr Justice Nicklin, who sits as Judge in Charge of the Media and Communications List, the Government accepted that the press release’s description of Dr Butt was “wholly false”. It publicly apologised to Dr Butt, and agreed to pay him compensation and his legal costs. It also agreed to remove Dr Butt’s name from the press release.
Dr Butt’s barrister told the court that Dr Butt “…was opposed in the strongest possible terms to all criminal violence, and [was] deeply offended by the suggestion that his speeches legitimise terrorism or that students should be protected from what he says”.
He continued: “The publication of these false and defamatory allegations by the Defendant has caused Dr Butt and his family very great distress, anxiety and damage to his reputation. He was particularly upset that these allegations had appeared in a formal government document that was issued for the information of the press and that it was published without any prior warning being given to him, and without providing him with any opportunity to respond.”
The barrister acting for the Home Secretary told the court that the Government was, “…sorry for the harm caused to [Dr Butt] and in particular for the fact that the allegation was made and maintained for so long”.
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