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Iranian Group Loses Defamation Experts

WASHINGTON (CN) - A journalism professor and an economist cannot testify that an Arizona man defamed a nonprofit by writing articles that characterize it as an agent of the Iranian government, a federal judge ruled.

The National Iranian American Council and its president, Trita Parsi, tapped the experts for their lawsuit against Seid Hassan Daioleslam. They claim they were defamed by articles that Daioleslam wrote on IranianLobby.com and other websites.

"The thrust of plaintiffs' complaint is that defendant 'has published false and defamatory statements indicating that [plaintiffs are] member[s] of a subversive and illegal "are members of a subversive and illegal Iranian lobby colluding with the Islamic Republic of Iran,'" U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote, quoting the suit.

As an organization "dedicated to promoting Iranian American involvement in American civic life," the council says these statements have hampered their fund-raising and advocacy goals.

Daioleslam counters that the First Amendment protects his statements, which he characterizes as true and devoid of malicious intent.

For the council's suit, University of North Carolina journalism professor Debashis Aikat wanted to testify that Daioleslam's writings did not meet the standard of care for journalists. Joel Morse, an economics professor with the University of Baltimore, wanted the court to use his estimate of financial damages that the council and its president suffered.

Bates excluded both experts on March 30, finding that their findings are not "sufficiently reliable or helpful to the jury" because they are not based on "sufficient facts or data" that are the "product of reliable principles and methods."

Though Aikat pointed to a one-page "Code of Ethics" adopted in 1996 by the Society of Professional Journalists, Bates said the testimony was overly vague and general.

"Beyond these generalized assertions, Aikat did not provide examples of or citations to any unsubstantiated facts or misleading statements in defendant's writings," he wrote.

Aikat also failed to describe the methodology he used or explain why he relied only on the SPJ Code, which "explicitly describes itself as a 'resource for ethical decision-making,' not a set of rules," the decision states.

"Aikat's view of the applicable standard was driven less by objective sources and more by his personal views," Bates concluded.

Morse, the economist, also used a flawed methodology to tie defamation to the council's decreased budget surplus since publication of the articles in 2007.

Specifically, Morse could not adequately demonstrate that the articles caused the council's increased expenses over the time in question or address the impact of the recession on donations.

"Given the multiple factual, arithmetical, and theoretical errors in Morse's calculations, the court finds that Morse's calculations are ultimately not reliable enough to put before the factfinder," Bates wrote.

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