In its order passed on Monday, a Delhi High Court bench has asked news channels to “ensure that no defamatory content against Bollywood personalities is displayed on their channels or uploaded on their social media handles.”
The Delhi High Court on Monday asked all news channels to “not run a media trial” and conduct “responsible journalism”. It was hearing a plea filed by Bollywood film and TV associations.
A bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdhar said that people were scared of the condition of the fourth estate in this country, and pulled up Republic TV and Times Now for their reportage on the death of Sushant Singh Rajput and the subsequent investigation into the drug trade allegations.
In its order passed on Monday, the bench has asked news channels to “ensure that no defamatory content against Bollywood personalities is displayed on their channels or uploaded on their social media handles.”
It has also issued notice to channels, including Republic TV, and directed them to file their response in two weeks. It also orally observed that “we expect channels to follow the Program code” and warned that “the defendant cannot say I will not follow the law.”
“Have you seen the kind of language used? Now participants on TV are using curse words on live TV channels because they get so excited. If you keep egging them on, that is what happens…” said the judge.
“Please start with the premise that I am not saying you cannot report. You can report. It is the manner of reporting. There is no civility in discourse. You are a broadcaster…” said the bench, as the lawyer for Republic TV, Advocate Malavika Trivedi, argued that a lot of information regarding “two mysterious deaths” had come out in public domain due to the “outstanding” work of media houses.
38 Bollywood production houses have filed a suit in the Delhi High Court, through law firm DSK Legal, against Republic TV and Times Now over “sensationalised coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput case”, which saw the media channels make allegations of drug trafficking against various Bollywood personalities.
“You can investigate, but you can’t run a maligning campaign. There hasn’t even been an FIR and channels start calling persons as accused,” said the bench.
“People are very scared about the 4th estate. Even when the issue of privacy of public figures gets diluted, you can’t drag their personal lives in public domain…” said Justice Shakdhar. In his comments on the effect that such journalism has on public persons, the court pointed out that Princess Diana of the UK had “succumbed to the media interference…”
Senior advocate Rajiv Nayyar, appearing for the petitioner Bollywood associations, also argued that TV news networks were “defaming persons and making false allegations while conducting parallel trials. The associations have sought court orders for injunction against the channels from making such statements, and have sought damages for the violation.
“I can understand “fair comment”, but can someone say don’t restrain me from making irresponsible, defamatory remarks? From carrying out media trial?” argued Nayyar.
The senior lawyer informed the court that the associations have raised six grounds in the lawsuit: defamation, breach of right to privacy, jeopardising personal safety, Injurious falsehood, breach of programme code, and parallel investigations contrary to expectations of a fair trial.
Senior advocate Akhil Sibal appearing for another petitioner association, also told the court that the suit had been filed as a group, asking the court to “send a signal” because “every aggrieved person cannot come forward,” as they fear that they would also be attacked by the media.
“The idea is not to attack the fourth estate. What we called yellow journalism – that fringe has become mainstream. So, a signal has to come from the court…” argued Sibal.
The court will now hear the matter on December 14.