April 17, 2015 / 9:54 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. jury hears Bryant Gumbel testimony in HBO libel trial

(Reuters) - A federal jury heard testimony from Bryant Gumbel on Friday at a trial in which HBO faces libel claims over a report aired on the TV journalist’s popular sports news program that focused on child labor in India.

Television journalist Bryant Gumbel participates in a panel for the HBO television show "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" during the TCA presentations in Pasadena, California, January 8, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Gumbel’s videotaped deposition came on the fifth day of the trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan over the report on “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that first aired in September 2008.

The report accused British sporting goods company Mitre Sports International of turning a blind eye to contractors or subcontractors who allegedly used underage workers to produce Mitre-branded soccer balls in India.

Mitre denies the claims and says it opposes child labor.

In his testimony, from January 2010, Gumbel said he was among the executives who “greenlighted” the 21-minute report. But his answer to most questions, including whether he raised any objections to its content before it aired, was “I don’t recall.”

Asked if he recalled the year when the report was filmed, Gumbel laughed befiore saying “No.”

He also said he did not remember who at HBO had produced and edited the report, and could not recall the name or affiliation of the Indian children’s rights activist who appeared and was interviewed in the report, alternately titled “Childhood Lost” and “Children of Industry.”

The activist, India’s Kailash Satyarthi, shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign against child labor.

Gumbel is due to take the stand as a witness for HBO later in the trial. His videotaped deposition may do little to bolster Mitre’s claim for “tens of millions of dollars” in damages from the Time Warner Inc subsidiary.

Ray Stallone, a spokesman for Home Box Office Inc, called the deposition “completely immaterial.”

Jurors must have been baffled when Gumbel said he did not know where Mitre soccer balls are manufactured or whether it was in India, however, since that was a central point of the report.

Mitre has said children depicted in the report as stitching soccer balls together for 5 cents per hour or less were induced by HBO to pretend on camera that they were child laborers.

Gumbel was not asked specifically about that claim. But asked to describe the “role” of children who appeared in the report, he said, “They are characters.”

“We look forward to further defending the journalistic integrity of ‘Real Sports’,” Stallone said in a statement.

The case is Mitre Sports International Limited v. Home Box Office Inc in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-09117.

Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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