Donald Trump: Free Speech Symbol or Libel Hound? (Analysis)

Donald Trump The Friars Club Honors Larry King - P 2012
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Donald Trump The Friars Club Honors Larry King - P 2012

The U.S. government can't prevent Donald Trump from running his mouth off on Twitter about Derek Jeter's ankle injury, why Robert Pattinson shouldn't take back Kristen Stewart or the "big announcement" concerning President Barack Obama that he promised would change the course of the presidential election. (Spoiler: It doesn't look like it will.)

So let's salute the the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- because in the U.K., plaintiff-friendly libel laws present greater caution flags for free speech.

REVIEW: You've Been Trumped

As Trump prepares to make his big Obama announcement, his attorneys are waging war with the BBC over the airing of You've Been Trumped, a documentary that details the real estate magnate's efforts to develop one of Scotland's last wilderness areas for a golf resort against the objections of local Scottish homeowners.

Before the documentary aired on BBC2 on Sunday night, Trump's attorneys sent a menacing letter to the network claiming that You've Been Trumped is defamatory and that a complaint would be made to Ofcom, the UK's version of the FCC, and the BBC Trust. The documentary was shown anyway and seen by 1.1 million viewers.

Managing partner Allan Wernham of Dundas & Wilson, the firm representing Trump, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the correspondence with the BBC is private.

“The film has been shown in cinemas for over a year and has been remarked upon in the Scottish press already," adds Wernham. "The firm is disappointed with the editorial balance of the program and disagrees with the views expressed, but recognizes the filmmakers are unlikely to re-edit the piece. On that basis, there is little to be gained by making any further comment.”

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According to the Guardian, Trump isn't quite finished complaining about the film.

George Sorial, Trump's chief counsel, told the newspaper that the BBC should fire Roger Mosey, the acting director of BBC Vision, and that Trump would follow through on threats to file complaints at Ofcom and the BBC Trust as well as other available legal actions.

The BBC responded by saying that You've Been Trumped  is an award-winning film.

"During the making of the film, Donald Trump declined the opportunity to take part," said the network in a statement to the Guardian. "We are confident that Donald Trump was offered sufficient right to reply in accordance with BBC editorial guidelines. Donald Trump chose not to participate but the film-maker took care to reflect his views on a number of different occasions in the film."

Anthony Baxter, the film's director, has also lashed out at Trump, calling what he's doing a “blatant attack on free speech."

If Trump sues for libel, it wouldn't be the first time he's brought a defamation case.

He once took Timothy O’Brien, author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald, to court, on the grounds that he had been defamed when O'Brien wrote he was a millionaire, not a billionaire. A New Jersey appeals court rejected Trump's claim that the author's use of anonymous sources amounted to "actual malice."

After Trump lost this case at the district court level, he took the opportunity to blast American libel laws. "The libel laws in this country have never been fair,” he said.

In the UK, the burden of proof often is on the defendants, which is why the country has been seen as a prime destination for libel tourism. Over the years, the country's politicians have made noise about reforming those laws.

In the meantime, with a habit of commenting on other public figures, Trump might be the beneficiary of U.S. laws he thinks should be reformed.

E-mail:; Twitter: @eriqgardner