Sunday 15 December 2019

Self-help guru sues Buzzfeed over sex claims in Irish court

Tony Robbins
Tony Robbins
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

American self-help guru Tony Robbins is suing US news website Buzzfeed for defamation in Dublin and is threatening similar proceedings against social media giant Twitter.

The case relates to articles detailing alleged sexual misconduct, which Mr Robbins vehemently denies.

Although Buzzfeed is headquartered in New York and most of its audience is in the US, the world-famous life coach initiated proceedings in the High Court in Dublin on Tuesday.

Mr Robbins' solicitor, Paul Tweed, defended his client's decision to sue in Ireland.

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"My client is entitled to have his name cleared. In my opinion, the Irish courts are just as capable of making that determination as the English courts or the American courts," he said.

Mr Tweed said Ireland would be the appropriate forum for both sets of proceedings as Twitter's European headquarters is in Dublin.

"It is totally appropriate that we try to keep everything under one roof," he added.

The defamation regime in Ireland is much stricter than the US and is also considered more plaintiff-friendly than the UK, making Dublin a prime location for so-called 'libel tourism'.

Hollywood couple Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel previously chose to sue 'Heat' magazine in Dublin, claiming they were defamed in its European edition, even though Ireland was not its biggest European market and it did not have editorial offices here.

Mr Tweed also acted in that case, which was settled.

Mr Robbins is not only aggrieved with Buzzfeed's coverage, but the manner in which it has spread on social media platforms.

He said his firm had put Twitter "on notice" of a potential lawsuit. Twitter declined to comment.

Should Mr Robbins go ahead with such proceedings, it would set up an interesting legal showdown as social media companies have not previously been successfully sued in Ireland over the publication of defamatory material.

Twitter and Facebook's position is that they are entitled to the benefit of the hosting immunity provided for under the EU's e-Commerce Directive, which has been transposed into Irish law.

They also tend to rely on the innocent publication defence under the Defamation Act.

Mr Tweed described the allegations detailed by Buzzfeed as "unfounded" and said his client had no alternative but to sue.

"Notwithstanding the full co-operation and extensive rebuttal evidence offered to Buzzfeed on behalf of our client and a significant number of witnesses, he has nonetheless been subjected to a persistent attack on his character over the course of a number of articles," the solicitor said.

A plenary summons issued against Buzzfeed UK Ltd says Mr Robbins is seeking damages for defamation, malicious falsehood, misrepresentation, breach of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

He is also seeking an injunction under the Defamation Act, restraining Buzzfeed from publishing similar allegations again.

Buzzfeed said it was "unequivocally" standing by its reporting, which it said was supported by hundreds of interviews, audio recordings, and documentary evidence.

It also criticised Mr Robbins' decision to sue it outside the US. Buzzfeed's editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, said Mr Robbins chose to sue abroad rather than addressing the detailed account of the woman in question.

Irish Independent

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