Michael Jackson fans gathered outside Channel 4’s London headquarters Wednesday to protest the broadcaster’s planned airing of “Leaving Neverland,” the controversial documentary about alleged sexual abuse by the late pop superstar.
Jackson’s supporters have called the documentary, by HBO and Channel 4, an unjustified smear on the singer’s reputation. Channel 4 issued a strongly worded defense of its decision to air the documentary in two parts, starting Wednesday evening. It said that showing “Leaving Neverland” was in the public interest and that viewers could reach their own conclusions.
The protest was organized via the Michael Jackson’s Children United Worldwide – Hospital Fund group on Facebook. It called for people to attend a peaceful protest “to Boycott releasing of disgusting documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ in UK TV.”
It added that this was the first of several planned protests. “The documentary will be released on Channel 4 early spring we would like to ask you to come and JOIN us on journey of series of protest prior UK release of the documentary to get it banned and shelved,” the group said.
A banner reading “Facts Don’t Lie. People Do” was unfurled at the protest at Channel 4 headquarters. Reports said there were “dozens” of protesters. The Facebook group has 313 registered as having attended.
James Safechuck and Wade Robson were befriended by Jackson when they were 10- and 7-year-old boys, respectively. “Leaving Neverland” paints a picture of alleged sexual abuse by Jackson and explores the feelings that led both men to confront their experiences. Variety’s review described the two men’s stories as “overwhelmingly powerful and convincing.” Jackson’s family has strongly condemned the film and rejected the allegations.
Jackson’s nephew, Taj Jackson, also spoke on BBC TV and radio ahead of the broadcast and defended his uncle. “Knowing Wade for many years, it didn’t seem heartfelt to me,” he said of Robson’s contribution to the film. “I don’t trust someone’s word when they don’t have any evidence.” He added: “I’m definitely saying that they are lying. They are suing for hundreds of millions of dollars right now.”
Channel 4 noted that its mission as a public broadcaster included delivering high-quality news and current affairs programs. “It is in the public interest to allow these individuals to tell of their interactions with Michael Jackson,” the broadcaster said in a statement to Variety.
“He was of course a high-profile figure whose work still entertains millions of people but who was previously accused of child sex abuse. Viewers will make their own judgment about the testimony of the two victims interviewed in the film when it airs.”
There were protests when the film premiered at Sundance, although Variety reported that police outnumbered the protesters. Dan Reed’s documentary has already aired on HBO in the U.S. It is set to be seen around the world after a slew of channels bought the two-parter.