After broadcasters Channel 4 were sued for libel over a documentary about Michael Jackson and his famous family, it has been reported that the case has been dropped just a day before the trial was due to start.
Matt Fiddes – who claimed to be a “close friend” of the singer, also working as his bodyguard for five years – filed a defamation lawsuit against Channel 4 over their 2008 documentary, The Jacksons Are Coming. As well as alleging that the documentary was faked, Mr Fiddes said that it implied that he had “betrayed” the Jackson family by leaking stories about them to the media.
Two years after filing the lawsuit and just a day before the case was due to go to trial, Mr Fiddes has withdrawn his claims. However, as Fiddes lodged the claim on a “no win, no fee” basis, his legal team will not be paid and Channel 4 will need to cover their £1.7 million legal costs.
As the company is reported to have their own professional indemnity insurance (covering libel cases and associated legal fees), Channel 4 is not intending to pursue Fiddes for their costs. Head of Channel 4, Julian Bellamy, has however said:
“This case illustrates the chilling effect that exorbitant legal costs in CFA-funded libel claims can have on broadcasters’ freedom of expression.”