The Michael Jackson estate has sent a letter to Channel 4 warning that a documentary on two men who accuse the singer of molesting them as boys violates the network’s programming guidelines.
The letter written by estate lawyer Howard Weitzman and released on Monday to The Associated Press states that Leaving Neverland, set to air in early March, makes no attempt at getting a response to the accusers from Jackson’s estate, family, friends or others who have defended his reputation as required by the channel’s standards for factual programming and basic journalistic ethics.
The letter cites a section of the publicly available guidelines that state if a show makes “significant allegations” then “those concerned should be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond”.
“I think we can all agree that the false allegations being made in your ‘documentary’ are ‘significant allegations’,” the letter states, adding “it is hard to imagine more significant accusations that can possibly be made against anyone”.
Yet no-one was ever asked to respond, the letter states.
“This includes persons mentioned by name in your ‘documentary’ as having ‘replaced’ Robson and Safechuck as Jackson’s supposed victims of abuse. Those named persons eloquently and publicly deny ever being abused,” the letter states.
Channel 4 said the allegations against Jackson are rebutted in the documentary by denials that Jackson made during his lifetime. It says the broadcast meets the UK’s official broadcasting code by providing these denials.
“On this occasion the person against whom the significant allegations are being made is deceased. It is therefore appropriate that his denials during life are included in the programme,” the station said.
The film’s director Dan Reed has addressed the criticism from the estate previously, saying in a statement that he intentionally focused on just Wade Robson and James Safechuck.
“Anyone who sees the film will know it is solely about hearing the stories of two specific individuals and their families in their own words, and that is a focus we are very proud of,” Reed said.
The three-page document from the estate echoes a longer letter it sent to US station HBO on Friday calling the allegations from Mr Robson and Mr Safechuck “disgraceful” and urging investigation of the men’s backgrounds.
A copy of the HBO letter was included with the Channel 4 letter, and applies just as much to the UK station, the letter states.
The two channels co-produced the documentary, which premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival, where Mr Robson and Mr Safechuck got a standing ovation afterwards.
Both had previously told authorities Jackson did not molest them, with Robson testifying as much in Jackson’s 2005 trial, in which he was acquitted of molesting another boy.
Jackson died in 2009.
Both men later filed lawsuits that were dismissed and are currently on appeal.