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Black and white Doordarshan was much better :Delhi High Court in Bollywood v. Times Now, Republic

Princess Diana died racing away from media

By Meera Emmanuel

The Delhi High Court today issued notice in the suit filed by Bollywood producers seeking to curb the defamatory remarks being made against the film industry by the reporters of Republic TV and Times Now.

The matter was heard by Justice Rajiv Shakdher.

Appearing for the Bollywood production houses, Senior Advocate Rajiv Nayar cited a number of news programmes broadcast by the channels in question that drew a co-relation between the film industry and the drug mafia

Nayar went on to argue,

“It does not stop here. Now they proceed as if we have links with Pakistan and ISI. Your Lordship will see how the reports start with reports on Sushant Singh and move on to links with drug peddlers and Pakistan.”

“Now it is alleged as if Shah Rukh Khan has links with Pakistan and ISI.”

Senior Advocate Rajiv Nayar

He further contended that Times Now took it a step further by accessing the WhatsApp chats of actors and violating their right to privacy.

Nayar also recounted a media segment where Republic TV followed actress Deepika Padukone, before referring to the prayers sought by the plaintiffs. He added,

“I can understand “fair comment”, but can someone say don’t restrain me from making irresponsible, defamatory remarks? From carrying out media trial?”

Senior Advocate Akhil Sibal was next to make submissions on behalf of the plaintiffs. He submitted that a certain section of the news media seems to have abandoned journalistic principles. He then referred to orders passed by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) which warned against media trials.

With reference to reportage on pending cases, Sibal said,

“…matters are being dissected, described as evidence – whether it is evidence or not, admissible or not – those are matters for the court!”

Nayar then culled out the six grounds in the suit filed by the Bollywood producers:

1. Defamation

2. Breach of Right to Privacy

3. Jeopardising personal safety

4. Injurious falsehood

5. Breach of Programme Code

6. Parallel investigations contrary to expectations of a fair trial.

Justice Shakdher then asked,

“The only question I have – there are some individuals (who claim to be aggrieved) Why haven’t they themselves become plaintiffs?”

When Nayar replied that the individuals were part of the association that filed the plea, the judge said,

“I understand that. But there is defamation of a class and defamation of individuals.”

Stating that the individuals could be added as petitioners, Nayar made it clear that he was presently only seeking an injunction on the reportage.

We reserve the rights to claim damages.”

Sibal then said,

“…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.”

Justice Shakdher responded,

“Courts hesitate (in restraining media reports) because it is a constitutional right. But you are right, we expect fair reportage…

…We used to find Doordarshan very stale, but we had some lovely broadcasters then… I was actually thinking black and white and DD was much better.”

Appearing for Times Now, Senior Advocate Sandeep Sethi questioned the maintainability of the plea, as those aggrieved were not before the Court.

Requesting Sethi to “rise above his brief” and answer larger issues, the Court asked,

“What is that should be put in place to change the way the reporting is carried out?…There needs to be some toning down. There are orders of NBSA. But it seems that news channels are not following that. As an officer of the Court, what is the next step here if you do not follow self-regulation?”

“What are we to do about this? It is a general remark across the board. All of you have to think about it. It is a little disheartening and demoralises everyone.”

Delhi High Court

The Court went on to note,

“…in the case of Princess Diana, she died because she was racing away from the media. You can’t just go on like this. The Courts are the last ones to want to regulate.”

Appearing for Republic TV, Advocate Malavika Trivedi argued on how the media had played a beneficial role in various cases, including the Sathankulam custodial deaths case. She added that recently, it cannot be ignored that there was a lot of information concerning the mysterious deaths of two personalities which had come to the public domain due to the media’s role.

Justice Shakdher responded,

“I will be the first one to say, they (media) have done some outstanding work… 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…”

Advocate Jatinder Kumar Sethi added that the media has been reporting on facts, among other submissions. The Court, however, observed,

Have you seen the kind of language used… Now participants on TV are using cuss words on live TV channels because they get so excited. If you keep egging them on, that is what happens.”

Senior Advocates Arvind Nigam, Sajan Poovayya, and Kapil Sibal questioned the need for YouTube, certain subsidiaries of Twitter, and Facebook to be impleaded as parties, respectively. The Court noted that since Google was already arrayed in the matter, there was no need for YouTube to be a party.

The Court went on to issue notice in the matter, directing that written statement and replies are to be filed within two weeks. The Court has also directed the defendants to ensure that no defamatory content is displayed on their channels or uploaded on social media, in the meanwhile.

As a counter to the ‘Bollywood drugs mafia’ reportage carried on Republic TV and Times Now, 38 producers had filed a suit, through DSK Legal, in the Delhi High Court seeking to curb the irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks being made against the film industry.

The suit singles out Republic’s Arnab Goswami and Pradeep Bhandari and Times Now’s Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar for conducting media trials of Bollywood personalities and interfering with the right to privacy of persons associated with Bollywood.

The producers have taken exception to the phrases being used by these reporters to describe a so-called drug cartel operating in the film industry in the wake of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. These phrases include, “dirt”, “filth”, “scum”, “druggies” and expressions such as “it is Bollywood where the dirt needs to be cleaned”, “all the perfumes of Arabia cannot take away the stench and the stink of this filth and scum of the underbelly of Bollywood”, “This is the dirtiest industry in the country”, and “cocaine and LSD drenched Bollywood”.

It is pointed out that these reporters have previously been penalized and reprimanded and have had orders passed against them by courts for irresponsible reportage and defamatory content. Further, they have previously been found guilty of broadcasting incorrect news, the producers claim.

Moreover, it is alleged that these news channels have been “openly flouting” the Programme Code framed under Section 5 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 contained in Rule 6 of the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.