A Florida appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that ESPN did not defame Don King in an episode of its series “Sports Century,” reports Reuters.
The special included allegations that the boxing promoter cheated a hospital out of money from a benefit fight, owed money to boxer Meldrick Taylor and threatened to have him killed, and convinced doctors to invest in a movie on King’s life that was never made.
King sued ESPN, ABC and Disney in Florida court for defamation, but the case was thrown out on summary judgment with a finding that he couldn’t show “actual malice” from the defendants. On appeal, King argued that several email exchanges among ESPN producers showed the network harbored ill will toward him and wanted to portray him as a “huckster,” “thug” and an “evil mob connected guy.”
But the Florida appeals court ruled there is a difference between “ill will” and “actual malice.” The latter is required by law from public figures who assert libel claims and is generally meant to mean that plaintiffs need to show knowledge of false information published with reckless disregard for the truth.
“Nothing in the record shows that ESPN purposefully made false statements about King in order to bolster the theme of the program or to inflict harm on King,” writes Judge Dorian Damoorgian in his decision, adding that King couldn’t establish that ESPN doubted the veracity or had reason to conduct a more thorough fact-check of those appearing on the program.