A judge has ruled that the lawsuit brought against HBO by Michael Jackson‘s estate must be moved to arbitration, after the network aired controversial documentary Leaving Neverland earlier in the year.
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The Dan Reed-directed documentary, which divided viewers upon its UK airing earlier this year, focuses on testimony by Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 41, who both claim that Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. In the wake of the film being shown, Jackson’s songs were subsequently banned on numerous radio stations around the world.
On Friday (September 20), U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu granted a request made by Jackson’s estate that HBO must adhere to a 1992 arbitration agreement that stated the network could not make disparaging remarks about the singer or “do any act that may harm or disparage or cause to lower in esteem the reputation of [Jackson].”
According to Billboard, while arbitration proceedings are usually private, Jackson’s lawyers have requested a public arbitration.
Last month, after a federal judge rejected a motion from Jackson’s estate to throw the case to an arbitrator back in May, HBO filed a motion for dismissal. They claimed that their documentary is protected under the First Amendment and California Code of Civil Procedure.
“HBO’s distribution of this documentary – which recounts the personal stories of two individuals who describe in detail how, as young boys, they were sexually abused for years by Michael Jackson, arguably one of the world’s most famous public figures – constitutes protected activity under the First Amendment and California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16,” the motion read.
HBO previously claimed that the decades-old deal cited by Jackson’s estate had expired, and therefore does not cover the Leaving Neverland film. The broadcasters hit out at legal action set in motion by Jackson’s estate, claiming it was a “transparent effort to bolster their publicity campaign against the documentary”.
Michael Jackson denied any wrongdoing before his death in 2009.