By Keen Zhang
Already hit with a Beijing lawsuit brought by 14 Chinese lawyers, media giant CNN faced more legal trouble yesterday as two Chinese women filed a class action against the company in a United States federal court, demanding one dollar for every Chinese person on the planet.
New York beautician Lydia Leung and Beijing primary school teacher Li Lilan signed the complaint against broadcaster. They will be represented by Attorney Ming Hai and his law office.
The suit claims remarks by commentator Jack Cafferty labeling Chinese "goons and thugs" violated the dignity and reputation of the Chinese people and intentionally or recklessly inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiffs.
"So I think our relationship with China has certainly changed, I think they're basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years," Jack Cafferty said in the program "Situation Room" that aired on April 9.
The women are seeking compensation of one dollar for every Chinese person on the planet; a total of US$1.3 billion.
Cafferty, and CNN's parent company Turner Broadcasting, are named as co-defendants. According to New York-based overseas Chinese website Sinovision.net, the court has accepted the case.
Lawyers said the court will send subpoenas to the defendants within two weeks. If the defendants fail to respond within 30 days, the judge can find for the plaintiffs by default. Lawyers said the massive compensation figure would force CNN to contest, but declined to comment on the outcome or claims the case was a symbolic action rather than a serious attempt to seek damages.
CNN earlier issued a statement denying Cafferty or CNN had intended to offend the Chinese people. Cafferty clarified that he was referring to Chinese government. But his clarification was denounced by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as "an attempt to incite the Chinese people against the government" and as confirmation that the intention of CNN coverage of Tibet and the torch relay was to demonize China.
A hotel has banned CNN programs in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province. The notice says the action will be continued "until CNN sincerely apologize for its tomfoolery".
Ming Hai anticipated the defendants would try to argue they were referring to the Chinese government, but he pointed out that Cafferty used "they" rather than "it", implying he was talking about the Chinese people not the government. And when the commentator referred to "junk" and "poisoned pet food" produced by the Chinese, he was evidently not talking about the Chinese government. Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom to libel, the lawyer said.
Ming Hai has assembled a team of six lawyers, including a judge from New York Superior Court. "We are going to win because justice is on our side," Ming Hai said. "And I also believe Jack Cafferty will suffer during the long legal proceedings."
"US$1.3 billion averages out at one dollar per Chinese person, so it isn't much," he added.