Clockwise: R Kamaraj, Dushyant singh, Smita Sabharwal, O. Panneerselvam, Ravindra Jadeja, Priya Krishna, Senthil Balaji
Defamation cases against the media are being filed thick and fast in 2015, with the pace picking up as the year wears on. There have been ten so far in the first 8 months of this year, as opposed to six in 2014. The latest was admitted on August 22, when Essar Steel India sued Caravan, its publisher Delhi Press, several of its editors and staff reporter Krishn Kaushik. The company filed a defamation suit in the Ahmedabad city civil court seeking Rs 250 crore as damages. The case alleged that the story “Doing the Needful: Essar’s industry of influence” had made imputations which would harm the company’s reputation.
After one case filed in January by cricketer Ravindra Jadeja who sued a Rajkot newspaper for defamation, and another in February by Karnataka MLA Priya Krishna who sued a Kannada TV channel, the pace picked up in July. This story is counting actual cases filed in courts across the land, not legal notices sent. There were five cases filed in July, and three in August, the last one being by Essar Steel.
Jadeja sought damages of Rs 51 crore from an evening newspaper called Abtak which had alleged that Jadeja and his business partner Jenesih Ajmera had links with Bali Dangar who is facing charges of land grabbing and extortion. And in Karnataka in February MLA Priya Krishna filed a defamation case against a Kannada channel for airing allegations of forest land encroachment against him and sought Rs 100 crore in damages. He deposited a Rs 52 lakh fee in a local court.
July was an amazing month.
The National Stock Exchange (NSE) filed a Rs 100-crore defamation suit in the Bombay High Court against the online news portal Moneylife for allegedly publishing false reports on an algorithm (algo) trading mechanism on its platform. The following month, on August 19 the NSE also filed a Rs 100-crore criminal defamation suit against yet another online news portal India Samvad for publishing similar articles. The editor said the Exchange upped its claims for damages from Rs 10 crore to Rs 100 crore.
Also in July Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s son MP Dushyant Singh filed separate criminal cases of defamation against Congress leader Jairam Ramesh and Times Now, its owner Vineet Jain and other directors and anchor Arnab Goswami, in a Dholpur court. The Congress party had produced documents alleging that he had wrongly claimed Dholpur Palace as his own property when it belonged to the state government and also took compensation for a National Highways Authority of India project.
And Goswami’s Newshour, was accused of making baseless allegations,” Vivek Raj Singh Bajwa, Singh’s counsel told the Indian Express.
The same month Tamil Nadu saw a principal sessions court in Chennai summoned the publishers and editors of two Tamil magazines and a daily for allegedly publishing defamatory news against state ministers. There are three cases here, involving articles about three different ministers.
Tamil weekly Anand Viketan had published a report allegedly casting aspersions on the educational qualifications of state minister of transport Senthil Balaji. The court asked its editor and publisher R Kannan and publisher S Madhavan to appear before it on August 28. Tamil Nadu finance and public works minister O Panneerselvam has filed a criminal defamation case against Tamil biweekly Junior Vikatan, the Times of India reported, for publishing an allegedly defamatory article claiming a person close to the minister was providing substantial funds to the ruling party. Judge N Authinathan summoned the editor/printer R Krishnamurthy and publisher R Lakshmipathy to remain present in the court on August 28. The third case involved an allegedly defamatory report in the Tamil daily Dinamalar about minister for food, Hindu religious and charitable endowments R Kamaraj on April 24.
Earlier this month in what has to be a first, an IAS officer in Telangana was sanctioned Rs 15 lakh legal aid from the state government to fight a Rs 10 crore defamation suit against Outlook magazine. The magazine had carried a gossip item along with a caricature in its July 6 issue about the bureaucrat, though it did not name her. She then approached the government on July 29 seeking permission and legal aid to sue the magazine, the Bangalore Mirror reported.
There seems to be a new willingness, then, on the part of those casually maligned by the media, to drag them to court and hold them to account. Ironically, the maximum damages have been sought in the one case where considerable investigation preceded publication--the case involving Caravan and Essar.