The estate of Michael Jackson has issued a letter to Channel 4 claiming that the documentary Leaving Neverland violates the network’s programming guidelines.

The documentary features extensive interviews with two men who accuse the singer of molesting them as boys, Wade Robson and James Safechuck. The four-hour long documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah last week and left audience members shocked by the details of the allegations. 

The letter written by estate lawyer Howard Weitzman was released on Monday, 11 February to The Associated Press and states that Leaving Neverland, which is set to air on Channel 4 in early March, violates the channel’s standards for factual programming and basic journalistic ethics.

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According to the letter, the film’s director, Dan Reed, made no attempt at getting a response to the accusations from Jackson’s estate, family, friends or others who have defended his reputation.

“This includes persons mentioned by name in your ‘documentary’ as having ‘replaced’ Robson and Safechuck as Jackson’s supposed victims of abuse. Those named persons eloquently and publicly deny ever being abused,” the letter states.

The letter cites a section of the channel’s guidelines, which are publicly available, that state that if a show makes “significant allegations” then “those concerned should be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond”.

“I think we can all agree that the false allegations being made in your ‘documentary’ are ‘significant allegations’,” the letter states, adding that “it is hard to imagine more significant accusations that can possibly be made against anyone”.

A spokesperson for the Channel 4 has said in a statement: “As it is clear to anybody who has watched this documentary, to be broadcast on Channel 4 on the 6/7th March, the significant allegations in the programme that Michael Jackson was a perpetrator of child sexual abuse are responded to by the inclusion of Mr Jackson’s own denials.”

“The documentary deals with the criminal trials and civil court cases and any involvement our principal interviewees had in those.  It is not unusual for victims of child sex abuse to only feel able to disclose what happened to them in later life.”

“The Channel 4 Factual Guidelines explicitly states that they are to be read in conjunction with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. The Code stipulates that ‘if a programme alleges wrongdoing or incompetence or makes other significant allegations, those concerned should normally be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond.’ On this occasion the person against whom the significant allegations are being made is deceased. It is therefore appropriate that his denials during life are included in the programme.”

“Channel 4 viewers will make their own judgement about the testimony of the two victims interviewed in the film,” the statement concludes.

The film’s director Dan Reed has addressed the criticism from the estate previously, saying in a statement that he intentionally focused on just Wade Robson and James Safechuck.

“Anyone who sees the film will know it is solely about hearing the stories of two specific individuals and their families in their own words, and that is a focus we are very proud of,” Reed said.

The three-page document from the estate echoes a longer letter it sent to US station HBO on Friday, 8 February calling the allegations from Mr Robson and Mr Safechuck “disgraceful” and urging investigation of the men’s backgrounds. A copy of the HBO letter was included with the Channel 4 letter, and applies just as much to the UK broadcaster, the letter states.

The two channels co-produced the documentary, which premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival, where Mr Robson and Mr Safechuck got a standing ovation afterwards. Both had previously told authorities Jackson did not molest them, with Robson testifying as much in Jackson’s 2005 trial, in which he was acquitted of molesting another boy. Jackson died in 2009.

Both men later filed lawsuits that were dismissed and are currently on appeal.

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