HBO goes to trial over alleged 'hoax' child labor report

Mon Apr 13, 2015 1:33pm EDT
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By Tom Brown

(Reuters) - Jury selection began on Monday in a trial in which Home Box Office Inc faces libel claims over a report linking British sporting goods company Mitre Sports International to child labor in India.

The trial in federal court in Manhattan is the culmination of years of litigation over the report on "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," which first aired in September 2008.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels told potential jurors that the trial was expected to take up to four weeks.

Mitre, established in 1817, is the world's oldest manufacturer of soccer balls. The company says it does not use child labor and firmly opposes it.

It has said some children depicted in the HBO report as stitching Mitre soccer balls in India for five cents per hour or less were induced to pretend on camera that they were child laborers. Some children shown in the report were also described as victims of debt bondage and child slave labor.

Mitre, which is owned by the London-based Pentland Group, has called the report a “hoax” and a “hatchet job,” aimed at tarnishing the reputation of a company at the forefront of global efforts to eradicate child labor.

“The evidence will show not only that this television show was false but it was told with HBO’s clear knowledge of its falsity,” said Lloyd Constantine, an  attorney representing Mitre. “Virtually everything in the show is false and HBO knew it at the time it was telecast.”

HBO says it stands by the report, alternately titled “Childhood Lost” and “Children of Industry.” Ray Stallone, spokesman for the Time Warner Inc subsidiary, has repeatedly dismissed the libel case as “without merit.”   Continued...

The logo for HBO,Home Box Office, the American premium cable television network, owned by Time Warner, is pictured during the HBO presentation at the Cable portion of the Television Critics Association Summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Fred Prouser