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Channel 4 strongly defends Leaving Neverland director in legal wrangling with Michael Jackson estate

By | Published on Thursday 22 October 2020

Michael Jackson

Channel 4 has criticised two companies operated by the Michael Jackson estate while strongly defending Dan Reed, the director behind the controversial ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary.

Broadcast last year, the film put the spotlight on abuse allegations made against the late king of pop by Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Reed is currently working on a follow-up to ‘Leaving Neverland’, examining the ongoing legal battles between Robson and Safechuck on the one side and the Jackson companies MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures on the other.

Legal action by both Robson and Safechuck was able to resume last year after a change to the law in California. Under the previous rules, both men had left it too late to pursue legal action in relation to alleged past child abuse. But changes to the statute of limitations under Californian law meant those lawsuits could be relaunched.

Safechuck’s case has now been dismissed, however, on the basis MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures did not directly owe him any duty of care in relation to the time he spent with Jackson as a child. Although he has already vowed to appeal, while Robson’s case is expected to reach court next year.

Meanwhile, according to Deadline, after Reed began filming court proceedings in relation to those two lawsuits, the Jackson companies sought to pull the director into the litigation himself.

They served subpoenas against Reed and his production company Amos Pictures demanding that he hand over documents relating to ‘Leaving Neverland’ and its sequel, and that he agree to give a deposition about the projects. A subsequent legal filing by the Jackson companies then also sought to discredit Reed and persuade the court that he is not a legitimate journalist, while also requesting that the director be banned from filming in the courtroom.

Reed fired back last week stressing that he is a UK resident and that his company Amos has no base in California, meaning it will be difficult for the courts there to force him to hand over any documents. He also outlined his career as an Emmy and BAFTA-winning film-maker and stressed that the ‘Leaving Neverland’ sequel will document both sides’ arguments in the ongoing legal battle. To that end, he adds, he had invited representatives of the Michael Jackson estate to take part in the new documentary, but those invites had been declined.

Reed’s legal filing is backed by Louisa Compton, Head Of News And Current Affairs at Channel 4, which co-produced ‘Leaving Neverland’ and has commissioned the sequel. She states: “Understandably, the MJJ companies are not happy with ‘Leaving Neverland’ or the making of the follow-up documentary. It is easy to see why they do not want the subject matter of these films to be reported to the public. However, as much as they may dislike the messages that are being conveyed by these documentaries, we strenuously oppose their efforts to ‘shoot the messenger'”.

“In particular, we at Channel 4 oppose their effort to use subpoenas to try to force Reed and his company to turn over all of their unpublished materials and drag this journalist into depositions”, she goes on. “In the UK, as in the United States, the courts are very reluctant to order journalists to hand over unbroadcast and other journalistic material, given the strong legal protections that exist to protect freedom of expression. The motives of the MJJ companies are further revealed by their attempt to ban Reed from filming in the courtroom and thereby prohibit him from getting footage to report on the proceedings”.

She concludes: “We oppose these efforts to suppress journalism by preventing Reed from further informing the public about these matters of vital public importance”.