A U.S. jury cleared HBO of libel claims on Friday in a lawsuit brought against the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary by a British sporting goods company over a report linking it to child labor in India.
Miter Sports International, a unit of the Pentland Group, sued HBO for defamation in October 2008, after a report called “Children of Industry” aired on the broadcaster’s news program “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”
At the trial, which began on April 13 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Miter’s lawyers were seeking “tens of millions of dollars” for damages they claimed the company suffered after the report portrayed it as using or turning a blind eye to child labor making Miter soccer balls in India.
Miter also said it was outraged because its soccer ball brand was the only one named in “Children of Industry.”
Pentland claims to stand at the forefront of global efforts to eradicate child labor from the sporting goods industry.
Miter’s complaint centered largely on claims that some children shown hand-stitching Miter soccer balls in the report, for 5 cents per hour or less, were not actual child stitchers. Its lawyers produced sworn depositions from three of the children to bolster its contention that children were induced to pretend on camera that they were underage workers.
HBO disputed those claims and countered that child laborers in Jalandhar, India, where much of “Children of Industry” was filmed, lived in a “climate of fear,” and were coerced into signing false affidavits.
In an exhibit admitted into evidence at the trial, a Nobel Prize-winning Indian child rights advocate said “criminal elements,” contractors and subcontractors that operated like a “mafia,” ran the soccer ball-stitching business in some deeply impoverished parts of India.
Lloyd Constantine, a lawyer for Miter, said it was not immediately clear if the company would seek to overturn the jury’s decision on appeal. It only took the jury about five hours to reach its verdict after a four-week trial.
In addition to any potential financial penalties stemming from the case, HBO had to worry about the reputation of its fast-growing news operation. It was repeatedly accused in open court of “fabricating” a news story.
“”We are delighted with the jury’s decision,” HBO spokesman Ray Stallone said in a statement. “This case was without merit.”
The case is Miter Sports International Limited v. Home Box Office Inc in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-09117.
(Editing by G Crosse and Ted Botha)
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