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Miss India UK, Big Brother and the meaning of Defamation!

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On 7th April 2014 in Deana Uppal v Endemol UK Ltd and others [2014] EWHC 1063 (QB) the Court was faced with the question of whether ‘insults, abuse and racial stereotyping’ aimed at the former Miss India UK during two of the live Big Brother broadcasts in 2012 amounted to defamation. In the context of an application for a Summary Judgment by the First and Second Defendants, Mr Justice Dingemans decided that insults and abuse aimed at Miss Uppal were not capable of bearing the defamatory meaning pleaded in the particulars of claim.

The claim arose in respect of two broadcasts from events in the Big Brother House in 2012. The first broadcast in question was on 25th June 2012 and the second on the 19th July 2012.

In the first broadcast, there was an argument between Caroline and Miss Uppal about some hair on the kitchen table. This escalated to Mr Connor McIntyre rapping “It’s your epilator, stick it up your arse, we don’t give a f**k because I’m going to f**king smash your face you little piece of sh*t”…..and then speaking to another housemate Ashleigh, he said “I’ll give her a fun game, I’ll stick this (showing the hair brush) up her f**king minge, the stupid b****rd, I’ll give her a f**king epilator (thrusting the hair brush towards his groin). I’m gonna play loads of pranks on her because she’s a f**king piece of sh*t, I don’t give a f**k if I get pulled into the Diary Room…”

In the second broadcast, referring to Miss Uppal, Ashleigh said “I was watching her eating her cereal and I was actually cringing so much inside, like, she was getting the milk and the f**king and she was picking it up with her hands, not a spoon.”

Miss Uppal subsequently issued proceedings for defamation and claimed that these words were defamatory in that the words from the first broadcast imputed that she had “below average intelligence” or alternatively that she is “in some way socially or intellectually inferior.” It was further claimed that these words imputed the meaning that she was “sexually promiscuous.” In relation to the words from the second broadcast, it was claimed that those words imputed the meaning that she “was in some way socially or intellectually inferior to the other housemates because she was of Indian origin or descent.”

In addressing the question of whether the words complained of are capable of bearing a defamatory meaning, Dingemans J considered a number of authorities.

In Jeynes v News Magazines Ltd [2008] EWCA  Civ 130 at paragraph 14 Sir Anthony Clarke MR said:

“The legal principles relevant to meaning …. may be summarised in this way:

1)    The governing principle is reasonableness.

2)   The hypothetical reasonable reader is not naïve but he is not unduly suspicious. He can read between the lines. He can read in an implication more readily than a lawyer and may indulge in a certain amount of loose thinking but he must be treated as being a man who is not avid for scandal and someone who does not, and should not, select one bad meaning where other non-defamatory meanings are available.

3)    Over-elaborate analysis is best avoided.

4)   The intention of the publisher is irrelevant.

5)  The article must be read as a whole, and any ‘bane and antidote’ taken together.

6)  The hypothetical reader is taken to be representative of those who would read the publication in question.

7)   In delimiting the range of permissible defamatory meanings, the court should rule out any meaning which, ‘can only emerge as the produce of some strained, or forced, or utterly unreasonable interpretation’….

8)  It follows that ‘it is not enough to say that by some person or another the words might be understood in a defamatory sense.”   

In Skuse v Granada Television Ltd [1996] EMLR 278 at 286 Sir Thomas Bingham MR said:

“A statement should be taken to be defamatory if it would tend to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally or would likely to affect a person adversely in the estimation of reasonable people generally.”

Applying the above principles, Dingemans J held that the words complained of by Miss Uppal were not capable of bearing a meaning defamatory to her. His lordship said at paragraph 26:

“In my judgment the words were not capable of bearing any meaning defamatory of Ms Uppal. As noted above, the use of the words “piece of sh*t” to describe Ms Uppal was vile abuse by Mr McIntyre. Mr McIntyre’s rap may have been Mr McIntyre ridiculing Ms Uppal, but the rap was not capable of exposing Ms Uppal to ridicule. Further, the broadcast had to be seen with any “bane and antidote”, which included Big Brother’s condemnation of Mr McIntyre’s remarks. Any reasonable viewer would have understood that the person whose reputation might have been adversely affected by this was the person who made up the rap, and not Ms Uppal.”

For similar reasons, his lordship also held that the remarks made in the second broadcast were not capable of bearing a meaning defamatory of Miss Uppal and that they were “offensive racial stereotyping.”

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Saiful Islam is a practising Barrister in the City of London

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  • Guest
    Smithc551 Monday, 06 October 2014

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