Sunday, January 29, 2023

Journalistic freedom cannot be extended to criticism of family: Delhi High Court

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The Delhi court today said that the public figures including Judges, social media influencers and others can be criticised for their opinions, actions and judgement but the freedom to criticise cannot extend to their children or family members.

Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Amit Sharma said whether journalistic freedom extends reaching to the personal space of someone’s house is debatable but to call someone a child abuser without proof is offensive.

Justice Mridul said.“You don’t like what the people say or do, criticise them but don’t reach into their houses. According to us that is offensive. Whether journalist freedom extends to that we don’t know at this time. This has to be decided,”

While dealing with an appeal by the Hindustan Times (HT) Media Limited (owner of Mint) against an order to take down an article against YouTuber Gaurav Taneja (Flying Beast) the observations were made by the bench.

The allegedly defamatory article had cited some social media comments against Taneja calling him ‘misogynist’, ‘child abuser’ and other things.

Amit Sibal, appearing for Hindustan Times said that the interim order was passed without considering the test laid down while deciding a journalist’s freedom speech in relation to a public figure.

The HT lawyer Sibal said that the order by single-judge was passed without giving them time to file a reply.

The lawyer also said that Taneja and other plaintiffs have yet to prove malice on part of the media house to order removal of an article.

“You may agree with it or disagree but is this an article that is generating public debate. Therefore, in order to stifle this debate, he needs to show malice. The question, therefore, is whether this test was applied in this case,” Sibal argued.

The Court, still believes that the matter was offensive and referred to Taneja’s child.

“Child can’t be a victim of someone else’s propaganda… We are completely unhappy with reference to the child. That we find very offensive,” the bench said.

The Court said that t criticism against judges is also in the public domain as they too are public figure, but if the judges render a decision, the criticism cannot extend to their family members.

The bench, in lighter vein, also remarked that Taneja was not a public figure because they have never heard of him.

The court also said “Just because someone tweets does not mean he is a public figure. Even pied pipers have followers, does not mean they are public figure… He is not a public figure. Public figure is someone who we would have heard of. We have not heard of this gentleman. You (Sibal) are a public figure” in a lighter vein.

The Court suggested Mint(Hindustan Times) to approach the single-judge again and file an application under order 39 Rule 4 of the CPC and seek the relief there, while advising the counsel of Taneja to appear on advance notice, argue the matter and not seek time to file a reply.

For Hindustan Times Mint ,Senior Advocate Amit Sibal along with advocate Naman Joshi appeared , whereas Taneja and others were represented through Senior Advocate Percival Billimoria along with advocates Raghav Awasthi and Mukesh Sharma.

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