The much hyped case of Fiddes v Channel 4 has this morning reached a surprising conclusion with a short statement in open court. At 10.30 a.m, Adrienne Page QC for the Defendants announced before Mr Justice Tugendhat that “the Claimant publically acknowledges that the programme was not faked as previously alleged. The Claimant also withdraws the allegations of malice”.
The statement is no doubt the result of intense negotiations between M LAW (for the Claimant) and Aslan Charles Kousetta (for the Defendants) and is probably more interesting for what it doesn’t say than the little it does.
An acknowledgement that the programme was not faked goes no way to meet the allegation that the programme was distorted and exaggerated to defame the Claimant. There was also no suggestion that Fiddes was to pay Channel 4’s costs, which one would expect if this were a whole-scale climb down by Fiddes.
As most readers will be aware, this case concerned a Cutting Edge documentary “The Jacksons are Coming” which followed members of the Jackson family, including Katherine and Tito Jackson, in their journey to Devon and depicted the Claimant as betraying the trust of the Jacksons and dishonestly exploiting them particularly by selling stories to the media. The Claimant alleged that the documentary was dishonestly edited and faked and the Defendants (Studio Lambert (the makers of the programme), Jane Preston, (a freelance journalist and the narrator) and Channel 4 (the broadcaster)) relied on defences of fair comment and justification.
The case had a rocky road to trial with trial by jury being overturned at the last minute on the application of the Defendants. The mode of trial decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 10 June (the judgment is yet to be handed down). Trial, which was due to start last Monday, was then postponed by one week and had been due to commence this morning before Mr Justice Tugendhat.
The Defendants exited court this morning claiming victory. Channel 4 head Julian Bellamy said
“Channel 4 is delighted that this unmeritorious claim has been discontinued. This case illustrates the chilling effect that exorbitant legal costs in CFA-funded (no win no fee) libel claims can have on broadcasters’ freedom of expression.”
Channel 4 has said that they are not paying damages or costs to Fiddes, but that they will not be claiming their legal costs from Fiddes either. It therefore seems that some manner of “drop hands” settlement was negotiated.
Fiddes on the other hand has since issued a statement through PHA Media describing the settlement as “amicable”. He said that he had withdrawn his claim after the three Defendants had acknowledged that he did not sell stories to the media during the filming of The Jacksons are Coming. He emphasised that that was “all he had been looking for.”
Anna Caddick is an Associate in the Media Litigation Group at Olswang and was formerly an Associate at M Law, the solicitors who acted for Mr Fiddes.