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Shilpa Shetty defamation case: Bombay HC refuses to ban media, says there’s a ‘judicial limit’ to good, bad journalism

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The Bombay High Court on Friday refused to put a blanket ban on media in the case involving Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty and her husband Raj Kundra, stating that there is a judicial limit on what can be construed as good or bad journalism.

The Bench headed by Justice Gautam Patel passed the order on an interim application filed by Shilpa Shetty against alleged defamatory articles published against her and family after the arrest of her husband on July 19. Shetty sought directions for media to be restrained from publishing any “incorrect, false, malicious and defamatory” content.

The court noted that the freedom of press has to be balanced with the right to privacy of an individual, adding that the ban will have a “chilling effect on the freedom of press”.

“There is a judicial limit on what is good or bad journalism as this comes very close to freedom of press. It cannot be like if you (media) are not going to write or say anything nice about me (Shetty) then do not say anything at all. How can this be?,” observed Justice Patel.

The Court, however, directed that three videos uploaded on Youtube channels of three private persons be deleted and not uploaded again, as they were “malicious” and did not make even the “slightest attempt to investigate the truth of the matter”.

The videos made comments on Shetty’s moral standing and went on to question the quality of her parenting, following the arrest of her husband Raj Kundra in a case related to alleged production and streaming of pornographic content on apps.

The court noted that most of the articles referred to in the suit, including the one that claimed “Shetty cried and fought with her husband Kundra” when he was brought to their house by the police for joint interrogation, was based on what police sources said.

“Reportage of something based on what police sources have said is not defamatory. If this had happened in the four walls of your house with no one around then the issue is different. But this has happened in the presence of outsiders. How is this defamation?,” Justice Patel said.

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The actor’s application also sought damages of Rs 25 crore, stating that the respondents (several media publications and social media sites like Google, Facebook and YouTube) are causing irreparable loss and damage to her reputation. In her plea, Shetty sought directions against social media platforms like Google, YouTube and Facebook to remove all defamatory content related to her and family.

To this, Justice Patel said, “Your prayer seeking for social media platforms like Google, YouTube and Facebook to exercise control over editorial content is dangerous.” The HC directed all defendants in the suit to file their affidavits and posted the matter for further hearing on September 20.

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