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A Florida appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that ESPN didn’t defame Don King in a special on the boxing promoter.
The episode of “Sports Century” included allegations that King 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 dismissed on summary judgment with a finding that he couldn’t show “actual malice” from the defendants.
King argued on appeal 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.”
In its latest decision, the Florida appeals court says 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.
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