Elite Model Agency v BBC

Reference: 24/05/2001

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Eady J

Date of judgment: 24 May 2001

Summary: Defamation - libel - reference - defamation of a company - whether correct claimant had sued - whether individuals should have sued

Appearances: Desmond Browne CBE KC - Leading Counsel (Defendant)  Adrienne Page KC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)  David Sherborne (Claimant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Withers for the Claimants; BBC Litigation Department for the Defendant


The Claimants, Elite Model Management Corporation, Elite Model Management Ltd, Elite Model Look SA, sued the BBC over a broadcast about the model agencies’ alleged exploitation of young models. The BBC claimed that the Claimants could not be defamed by the programme as the allegations reflected on individuals and not any corporation. If any corporation could be defamed, it was Elite Milan which was in any event not a Claimant to the action.


Whether the claim should be dismissed on the basis that none of the Claimants were referred to in, and therefore could not be defamed by, the programme complained of.


It was arguable that the First and Second Claimant were potentially identifiable to some viewers, and that some reasonable viewers would have attributed one or more of the defamatory meanings pleaded to the Third Claimant. The claim was not dismissed.


This case exemplifies some of the conceptual difficulties that a strict application of the law relating to reference in defamation cases can have in cases involving companies. Eady J commented on the need for the Court to be astute to cases where the true party defamed is an individual and a company is put up to be the claimant in the defamation action.