26 July 2022


In this issue of zoom-in brief, Rachel Riley’s libel claim is heard in the High Court, Ofcom rules that Russia Today broke broadcasting rules 29 times over four days, Love is Blind contestant brings action alleging inhumane working conditions during the filming of the series; whilst both Amber Heard and Johnny Depp file appeals over the awards granted in their defamation showdown.

Featureflash Photo Agency/shutterstock.com
Featureflash Photo Agency/shutterstock.com
Rachel Riley

Defamation – UK – High Court hears Rachel Riley libel action against blogger

TV presenter Rachel Riley’s libel claim against Vox Political blogger Michael Sivier reached the High Court last week, with the Countdown star suing Mr Sivier over an online article bearing the headline “Serial abuser Rachel Riley to receive ‘extra protection’ – on grounds that she is receiving abuse”.

Published on 26 January 2019 against the backdrop of a debate about antisemitism and the British Labour Party, Mr Sivier’s article made several allegations about Ms Riley’s behaviour online. In late 2019, the High Court determined its meaning, which included the allegation that Ms Riley had “engaged upon, supported and encouraged a campaign of online abuse and harassment of a 16-year-old girl, conduct which has also incited her followers to make death threats towards her”.

Mr Sivier initially relied on three defences to Ms Riley’s libel claim over the article: truth, honest opinion and publication on matter of public interest. In January 2021, the High Court struck out all these defences following an interim hearing. However, the Court of Appeal subsequently allowed Mr Sivier to continue to advance his public interest defence, saying it should be assessed at trial.

Giving evidence in London last week, Ms Riley told Mrs Justice Steyn that she received significantly increased amounts of abuse online from 9 January 2019.

She said: “That’s when the floodgates opened. I changed my Twitter settings after that week because it was so horrendous.”

Ms Riley added: “It was a whole load of abuse that I was receiving, that Channel 4 was receiving.”

Mr Sivier’s barrister, David Mitchell, accused Ms Riley of double standards in terms of making and receiving allegations, and further argued that she had not provided any evidence of Mr Sivier’s article causing her serious reputational harm.

Ms Riley’s Counsel, John Stables, rejected this argument, pointing to “the gravity of the allegations made against the claimant and the extent of their publication”.

Mrs Justice Steyn’s decision on the claim is expected at a later date.


Regulation – UK – Russia Today Ukraine coverage breached broadcasting rules 29 times, says Ofcom

Russia Today broke UK broadcasting rules on impartiality 29 times over a four-day period following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, British communications regulator Ofcom has said in a lengthy report published last week.

The 29 programmes, investigated by Ofcom on the basis of viewer complaints and its own monitoring, were broadcast by Russia’s RT between 27 February and 2 March 2022. The invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February. Ofcom says the breaches “were serious and repeated”, and that it is “minded to consider them for the imposition of a statutory sanction”.

Ofcom’s investigation focused on RT news bulletins and a documentary entitled Donbass Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. The regulator says the bulletins were “highly critical of the policies and actions of the Ukrainian state and/or military”, and concluded that they did not sufficiently feature alternative viewpoints.

RT stopped broadcasting on regulated platforms in the UK on 2 March, following the imposition of EU sanctions which undermined its capacity to broadcast. Later that month, the network’s licence to operate in the UK was revoked.

RT subsequently wound down its operations in central London, but continues to broadcast around the world from Russia.

Responding to Ofcom’s report, an RT spokesperson said: “The logic of these decisions mirrors the one guiding their delivery many months after Ofcom’s revocation of RT’s license: it is a trial after a conviction and RT is guilty of being Russian and daring to voice a point of view and show facts unacceptable to the British political and media establishments.”

US – ‘Love Is Blind’ contestant sues Netflix over ‘inhumane working conditions’

A former contestant on the Netflix reality TV show Love Is Blind has brought a lawsuit against the streaming giant over alleged labour law violations.

Season 2 cast member Jeremy Hartwell’s action, filed in Los Angeles names Netflix, production company Kinetic Content and casting company Delirium TV as defendants.

The lawsuit reportedly claims that cast members were sometimes left “alone for hours at a time with no access to a phone, food, or any other type of contact with the outside world until they were required to return to working”. It alleges that while they were “regularly refused timely food and water… while on set”, the defendants “encouraged” them to “consume alcohol throughout the entire day”.

In addition to alleging that the show’s practices “contributed to inhumane working conditions”, the lawsuit also claims that because producers determined the nature and timing of the cast’s work, contestants on the show should have been treated as employees under California state law, rather than independent contractors, and paid the Los Angeles County minimum wage.

In a statement to CNN, Kinetic Content and Delirium TV said that while they would “not speculate as to his motives for filing the lawsuit, there is absolutely no merit to Mr Hartwell’s allegations”. They added that they would “vigorously defend” the claims. Netflix has yet to comment on Hartwell’s action.

Hartwell, a director at a Chicago mortgage firm, is reportedly seeking to bring his lawsuit on behalf of all participants in Love Is Blind and other non-scripted productions created by Netflix, Kinetic Content and Delirium TV over the past four years. He is said to be seeking unpaid wages, compensation for missed meal breaks, damages for unfair business practices and civil penalties for labour code violations.

On Love Is Blind, male and female contestants meet and converse without seeing each other. To meet, a couple must get engaged. Some go on to marry on-screen, while other relationships break up.

The dating show has been a hit for Netflix since premiering in February 2020. Two weeks ago it was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Structured Reality Programme category. Its third season, filmed in Dallas, is set to air later this year.

Defamation – US – Appeals filed in the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp defamation case

Two weeks after Amber Heard was denied a request for a re-trial in the defamation case brought against her, she filed an appeal against the verdict in which she was ordered to pay her ex-husband over $10 million.  Johnny Depp is also seeking overturn the decision made against him, and has appealed the $2 million award handed to Heard.

At the beginning of June, a jury found that Heard had defamed Depp in an op-ed published in The Washington Post. Finding that an attorney for Depp defamed Heard, Heard was awarded $2 million in damages.

Appealing the verdict made against her, Heard contends that the court made errors which ‘prevented a just and fair verdict’.  Filing an appeal on Friday, Depp is seeking an appeal from all adverse rulings and from the final judgment order in an attempt to claw back the award made against him.


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