The claimant housemate in the 2012 series of Big Brother, a former Miss India UK, issued libel proceedings concerning two broadcasts of Big Brother. The producer and broadcaster sought summary judgment on the grounds that the words complained of were incapable of bearing the pleaded meanings and that they were not capable of being defamatory.

Uppal v Endemol UK Ltd and others: Queen’s Bench Division: 9 April 2014

Words capable of defamatory meaning – Claimant issuing proceedings against defendants for libel, breach of duty and breach of contract – First and second defendants seeking summary judgment on defamation claim

The claimant model, actress and former Miss India UK was a housemate in the 2012 series of Big Brother. She issued libel proceedings against the first defendant producer, the second defendant broadcaster and third defendant fellow housemate in respect of two broadcasts of events from the Big Brother House.

The first broadcast had contained a rap by the third defendant and the second had contained comments by another housemate, S, for which they had been reprimanded by Big Brother. The claimant sought damages, including aggravated damages, for libel, for breach of duty of care owed by the first and second defendants to the claimant, and for breach of contract against the first defendant.

She contended that the words broadcast meant that she: (i) had a below average intelligence; (ii) was in some way socially or intellectually inferior; (iii) was sexually promiscuous; and (iv) was in some way socially or intellectually inferior to the other housemates because she was of Indian origin or descent. The first and second defendants sought, inter alia, summary judgment on the defamation claim.

It fell to be determined whether the words complained of were capable of bearing the pleaded meanings and being defamatory. 

The application would be allowed.

Neither of the broadcasts had been capable of bearing the meanings alleged by the claimant or any other meanings defamatory of her. As to the first broadcast, the words had not reflected on the claimant’s social or intellectual status. The use of the words had been vile abuse. Further, the broadcast had to be seen with any bane and antidote, which had included Big Brother’s condemnation of the third defendant’s remarks.

Any reasonable viewer would have understood that the person whose reputation might have been adversely affected by that had been the third defendant and not the claimant. As to the second broadcast, it had contained offensive racial stereotyping, as had been pointed out by Big Brother immediately after the incident. That had been a reflection on S, but it had not been a reflection on the claimant (see [23], [24], [26], [27] of the judgment).

The first and second defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the defamation claim against the claimant and the claimant’s claim for defamation would be dismissed (see [29] of the judgment). Jeynes v News Magazines Ltd [2008] All ER (D) 285 (Jan) applied.

Christopher Hayes and Bruce Drummond (instructed by RLK Solicitors Ltd) for the claimant; Manuel Barca QC (instructed by Charles Russell LLP) for the defendants.