Our Senior Partner Clive Coleman comments on BBC Radio 4 re Baby Reindeer

Our Senior Partner Clive Coleman appeared on last week’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Media Show’. He spoke about the risk of a defamation action and the potential reputational consequences Netflix may face if it is found to have breached its duty of care towards “Real-life Martha” in its smash hit Baby Reindeer.

Baby Reindeer claims to be ‘a true story’ rather than one based on true events. It is written by and stars comedian Richard Gadd as a fictional version of himself being stalked by the terrifying Martha, a middle-aged Scottish lawyer.

As the series took off, the ‘Real-life Martha’ – also a middle-aged Scottish lady bearing a strong physical resemblance to Martha – was rapidly identified by online sleuths. The Media Show’s co-presenter Katie Razzall first interviewed Piers Morgan who had conducted a controversial interview with ‘Real-life Martha’. Baby Reindeer and Piers Morgan’s interview has sparked a fiery debate about the ethics around the portrayal of real-life characters on screen, especially if they are vulnerable due to their mental health. Richard Gadd has since added a gloss by describing the series as ‘emotionally true’.

Drawing on both his background as a barrister and his experience as an award-winning writer for theatre, TV and film, Clive discussed the warranties that writers are required to give that nothing in their work is defamatory. Explaining how seriously writers take these warranties and the due diligence they undertake as a result, Clive read out the one he had signed when writing the screenplay of ‘The Duke’ starring Jim Broadbent and Dame Helen Mirren.

Clive highlighted the three main issues at play in the case of Baby Reindeer: defamation; duty of care; and the potential reputational repercussions that Netflix may face.

He observed that Netflix will likely not be overly concerned about the cost of losing a defamation case, due to the depth of the corporation’s pockets. Instead, Clive noted that, if Netflix has indeed failed in its duty of care, then it may well result in a bigger reputational issue for the streamer, with long-lasting financial consequences: “People don’t like a vulnerable person being thrown to the wolves. They vote with their feet – and with their subscriptions.”

He continued: “There has been a weird, deafening silence from Netflix thus far on all of this. If the public are of the view that there was a massive failure of duty of care here, and “Real-life Martha’s” life has been really impacted negatively as a result of that, I think that is a big issue for Netflix.”

Indeed, since the Media Show, Netflix executive Benjamin King has been asked to clarify evidence he gave to parliament’s Culture Media and Sport Committee, that Baby Reindeer was “obviously a true story of the horrific abuse that the writer and protagonist Richard Gadd suffered at the hands of a convicted stalker”, as journalists have been unable to find any record of a conviction. The controversy looks set to continue.

Click here to listen to Clive’s appearance in full.

(Image credit: Netflix)