Edinburgh Television Festival: Channel 4 silenced in Body Shop controversy

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A COURT injunction is effectively barring Channel 4 from reporting any aspect of the latest controversy surrounding The Body Shop, raising concerns over freedom of expression, writes Rhys Williams.

Last summer, The Body Shop successfully sued Channel 4 for libel after an episode in its Dispatches documentary series alleged that the cosmetics company had misled customers over its policy on animal testing. An injunction prevents the film-makers Fulcrum Productions and Channel 4 from repeating the allegations. Nor, under a wide-ranging clause, can they produce reports suggesting 'the (Body Shop's) public stance on environmental and human rights issues generally is, or probably is, insincere and a mere device to make money'.

During the past week, media coverage has suggested that The Body Shop has over-hyped its green image. Critics have claimed that the company's much-vaunted Trade-not-Aid policy - which involves buying goods from indigenous peoples in developing countries rather than giving aid - is insignificant.

Ethical investment funds are reviewing trade in The Body Shop pending an article being published shortly by Jon Entine, an American journalist, that will 'raise serious questions about Body Shop's role as a leading socially and ethically aware company'. The Body Shop has rejected all the criticisms in the article, claiming that Mr Entine has 'fuelled and stoked widespread rumour and innuendo'.

It is understood Channel 4's solicitors said that news reports of the controversy 'would be out of bounds' under the injunction.

Although the channel contested the wide- ranging nature of the ruling at the time, it subsequently chose not to appeal. The channel was already liable for damages for loss of profit of more than pounds 250,000. In addition to its own costs, Channel 4 would have to pick up The Body Shop's legal bill - estimated at more than pounds 1m. It is understood that a deal was then brokered, by which The Body Shop would reduce its costs if Channel 4 agreed not to appeal.

John Wadham, of the civil rights group Liberty, said that although Channel 4's agreement not to appeal complicates matters, 'the wide- ranging nature of the injunction places limits on freedom of expression'.