Friday, February 26, 2010

No Love Lost in Tennis Pro Libel Suit

Indoor tennis courts at the UniversityImage via Wikipedia
English tennis pro Robert Dee, 23, has taken to a law court, instead of a tennis court,  to slam London's Daily Telegraph in a libel suit for calling him the "World's worst tennis pro."

According to an account in The Guardian, Dee's attorney said  articles in the Telegraph on April 23, 2008, featured stories under the headlines "World's worst tennis pro wins at last" and "A British sensation--the world's worst," that describe his client's "dismal run" of three years on the professional circuit during which Dee did not win any matches before  he defeated an unranked 17-year-old player in Spain in April 2008, and equate Dee's 54 consecutive match losses to losing performances by a swimmer and a ski jumper.

Dee concedes losing 54 international matches in a row, but claims he had "modest success" in national tournaments in Spain during that losing streak. Dee's attorney said the Telegraph articles exposed his client to ridicule and contempt and could deter others from hiring Dee as a professional coach.  Moreover, Dee asserts that he was not world-ranked in 2008, and therefore, could not be the "World's worst" player.

For its part, the Telegraph is sticking to its guns, and calling in big guns, including tennis greats Boris Becker and John Lloyd, as witnesses. Thus far, Dee's legal spin has been more successful than the spin in his serve, as he has extracted apologies and/or damages from various English media outlets that disparaged his tennis skills, but wanted to avoid litigation, including the Guardian, the Sun, the BBC and the Daily Mail. 

Although arguably calling Dee the world's worst tennis pro could be an objectively verifiable statement of fact, "TUOL" suspects were the lawsuit brought in the U.S. against American media outlets, Dee might be jumping over the net to congratulate the winner, because the burden would be on him to prove  the media outlets published the falsestatement with actual malice. The media would offer up a defense of fair comment--that is, calling Dee the world's worst is a statement of  opinion, which is neither true nor false, and therefore, not susceptible to a defamatory meaning. If the events had occurred in the less libel plaintiff-friendly U.S., there wouldn't have been match point in bringing suit.

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  1. Thanks to your explanation of this case, I may finally understand some nuances of libel law. Appreciate it.

  2. No charge. This case is partly why Parliament is revisiting English defamation law to curb "libel tourism." Because Dee is in pro-libel plaintiff England, he can sharpen his testimony, whereas, if he were in the U.S. where the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove falsity, rather than the media defendant to prove the truth of the matter asserted, Dee would be better off working on his backhand.

  3. Yet, by explaining the nuances so carefully, you are encouraging "Libel Tourism." Thanks to you, character assassins will descend on England in droves, train in their courts and then invade our country intent on slander.