Top Gear’s Victory in Tesla Row
It seems like every week one member of BBC2’s Top Gear team says something offensive or derogatory. While the comments are a fundamental part of the television show, on occasion a powerful individual or company will take action to silence one of the three hosts. Such an event came to pass between the electric car company Tesla and the television show, ending this week with a stunning conclusion.
The dilemma began when the Top Gear team reviewed Tesla’s electric sports vehicle. Those who watch the show regularly know that when the team doesn’t like a car they tend to be rather ruthless about it. The Californian company however did not take kindly to Jeremy Clarkson’s comments, bringing a libel and malicious falsehood suit against the television show.
The Tesla Roadster, a car costing £92,000, was first reviewed in December 2008 where it was shown to be constantly running out of electricity. The lawsuit against the television show suggested that the standards of the review were lacking. While the company acknowledge that the 3.9-second time from 0-60 was accurate, Tesla claimed that their representation of a 55-mile limit was false. Indeed, Tesla claimed that the car was capable of a 200-mile range. Furthermore, the company and owners of the vehicle suggested that they never experienced many of the problems that Top Gear asserted.
The company was puzzled by this exaggeration. The communications direction Myra Pasek suggested that the representation was unfair and they sought damages for it. However, reporters at the Guardian have recently revealed that Justice Tugendhat ruled in favor of the BBC. The judge struck out the libel claim as well as the malicious falsehood claim by suggesting that it was gravely deficient.
It seems that here the urban driving conditions were quite different to what the racing track test would be. It was added that the claim was not capable of being a defamatory action at all. Rather, Justice Tugendhat suggested that “it was not capable of being sufficiently serious defamatory meaning to constitute a real and substantial tort.”
Libel claims need to be closely examined against other rights. The most important of these deal with freedom of expression where the journalist’s rights are compared with those rights to protect the company and reputation. The UK court system takes these matters very seriously and needs a high threshold in order to rule in the favour of the claimant.