Finke’s libel suit against Disney gets go-ahead

Jouno claims job lost due to articles about Mouse, Pooh

A California appeals court has allowed a reporter’s libel suit against the Walt Disney Co. to proceed in a case linked to the legal battle over Winnie the Pooh.

The state appeals court in Los Angeles ruled that Nikki Finke, a New York Post reporter who lost her job after writing articles about the fight over merchandising rights to the honey-loving bear, could pursue some of the charges against Disney, which had appealed a lower court’s ruling.

Disney prevailed, however, on one notorious issue, when the panel of three judges ruled there was no evidence to show an “unholy alliance” between Disney and News Corp., owner of the Post, that would constitute an illegal business practice.

Both sides claimed victory in the appellate ruling on a request by Disney to throw out the original case.

Finke, working for the Post on a contract basis, had reported that Disney had been sanctioned by a judge for disposing of documents in the Winnie the Pooh case, in which the family of a U.S. literary agent who bought U.S. merchandising rights to Pooh charges Disney with shortchanging it on royalties.

Though Finke was not the only journalist to report on the sanctions — or even the first — the lawsuit claims her stories enraged Disney’s top executives, including chairman-CEO Michael Eisner.

‘Misrepresentations’ seen

Disney president and chief operating officer Bob Iger wrote the Post a letter stating Finke’s reporting “includes serious misrepresentations clearly designed to injure the Walt Disney Co.” and an “absolute distortion of court records.”

Finke alleged she was wrongly dismissed from the Post due to Disney’s letter and filed a $10 million suit against Disney and News Corp.

The appeals court ruled “Finke has established a reasonable probability on her cause of action for libel” by virtue of the letter, which it quoted. Finke claimed victory on that issue.

Disney spokesman John Spelich said the company was pleased it had prevailed on some counts and would present evidence to win on the remaining claims.

An appeals court also is considering a separate bid by News Corp. to stop Finke’s case against it.

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