It’s a NetFix: Arron Banks threatens Netflix with legal action over new documentary

July 30, 2019

3 min read

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What's going on here?

The billionaire businessman and Brexit campaign funder Arron Banks issued a legal threat to Netflix about their new documentary The Great Hack (released on 24th July), demanding “to see any allegations in the film, and be given a chance to respond”.

What does this mean?

The documentary, The Great Hack, discusses the Cambridge Analytica scandal and how personal data from Facebook was abused by several organisations including the Brexit Leave Campaign. Banks had not yet seen the documentary when he made his legal threat to Netflix labelling the documentary as “false and defamatory” as it was due to be premiered in the following week.

The co-director and Academy Award nominee Karim Amer responded to the threat from Bank’s lawyers from the city law firm Kingsley Napley by inviting Mr Banks to “watch the film when it premiers worldwide on Netflix on 24th July”. Amer reaffirmed that he stands by the content in the film and that he “will vigorously defend any claim”, adding that he “found it ridiculous” to file such a claim without seeing the material in question. Banks has not commented specifically about his action taken against Netflix but more generally stated “I am a great supporter of free media and press… [but] what we won’t tolerate is outright lying”.

What's the big picture effect?

How this case is dealt with will be crucial in examining how law regulates, or doesn’t regulate, the media. The action brought against Netflix comes just days after Banks launched a legal claim against a freelance journalist Carole Cadwalladr, one of the key protagonists in The Great Hack whose investigative work helped unveil the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cadwalladr, press freedom campaigners and charity groups have protested these actions. They argue that Banks is trying to use the UK justice system to “intimidate and silence journalists”.

Cadwalladr has pointed out that Banks’s action was against her personally and not the media outlets where she published the findings of her investigations. This means that Banks is using his vast wealth to get large UK law firms to help his case and stifle investigative journalism. Legal action and threats from the rich and powerful can often be used to delay or prevent a certain story being published. Press freedom campaigners signed a letter to the UK government highlighting a recent trend of wealthy individuals who use lawsuits in an oppressive and intimidating manner.

Examples of this include the murdered Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was facing over 40 lawsuits (many of which were brought by UK law firms) and the rise of “Slapp” cases (“strategic litigation against public participation”), a term which was coined in the 1980s in the US around deliberately vexatious defamation cases. As a response, 29 US states have specific statutory protections against “Slapps”. Indeed, California has a special variant of “anti-Slapp” legislation that provides a cheap and speedy defence. This involves the defendant using a special motion to make a complaint to the court when a lawsuit is within the rights of petition or free speech (Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16 (1992)). The Defamation Act (2013) in England and Wales require proof of special damage thus removing the majority of “Slapps”.

Nevertheless, UK law firms are all too happy to further the wishes of their clients in cases that could damage the freedom of the press. With this in mind, should the government take further steps to prevent rich individuals using the law to flex their financial power and suppress others?

Report written by Will Holmes

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