By Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) -British billionaire James Dyson failed in a libel claim over a Channel 4 News story about alleged abuse at a former supplier's factory on Monday after a judge ruled the broadcast was "simply not about him."
Dyson and two subsidiaries of his eponymous company sued Channel Four Television and Independent Television News (ITN) over the story broadcast on Feb. 10, 2022, which centred on ATA Industrial, a Malaysian company that made Dyson-branded vacuum cleaners.
The report alleged that workers at ATA had suffered abuse and inhumane conditions when they were making Dyson products on wages of nine pounds ($10.34) a day.
The broadcast quoted a statement from ATA saying the company was committed to ethical business practices.
It said Dyson the company had categorically denied it had failed to act responsibly or covered anything up, and the company had terminated its contract when a final audit uncovered evidence of serious problems.
Judge Matthew Nicklin said there was no dispute that the broadcast referred to Dyson, the 75-year-old inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner who was named and pictured, but it did not convey any meaning that was defamatory of him.
"The broadcast is simply not about him, and no ordinary reasonable viewer could conclude that he was being in any way criticised," he said in a judgment published on Monday.
Nicklin said there was nothing in the broadcast which attributed responsibility for what happened in a supplier's manufacturing plant to James Dyson, or which suggested some other culpable act or omission, and therefore it could not be defamatory to him.
He also ruled that the broadcast did not refer to the subsidiary companies, but added it could be possible for Dyson to put forward a revised claim on behalf of the two, or for a claim to be bought by other companies in the Dyson group.
A Dyson spokesperson said the company would continue to pursue the case.
"The judgment today is on a number of preliminary technical issues regarding how the case will proceed. The judgement concludes that the allegations centre on ATA and are not defamatory in respect of Sir James Dyson," the spokesperson said.
"We do, however, maintain that the broadcast made misleading and defamatory allegations against the Dyson companies."
An spokesperson for ITN said: "We are pleased with the court's decision to dismiss Sir James Dyson's personal claim for libel. We have always maintained the broadcast did not defame him. ITN always supports and encourages investigative journalism on matters of public interest."
($1 = 0.8708 pounds)
(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Sam Tobin; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Josie Kao)