The media is up in arms against the Supreme Court decision not to interfere in the proceedings of a defamation case against TimesNow by former Justice P.B. Sawant. The ruling requires TimesNow to deposit an amount of 20crores and a bank guarantee of 80crores with the Bombay High Court to hear an appeal against a lower court’s order in Pune which awarded the 100crore defamation to Justice Sawant.
Lately, the media has been under fire from various quarters, particularly the new PCI chairman Justice Katju. He is in favour of newer and stronger regular regulations, including punitive measures for infringements by the media. In the present case TimesNow argues that showing the picture of Justice Sawant in the report of a scam was a genuine, unintentional mistake without malice. All other media organisations like Editors’ Guild, BEA, NBA and others have criticised the SC ruling. Oh well, I’m not surprised even politicians like Abhishek Singhvi, Arun Jaitley and Ravishankar Prasad have also joined the chorus. In a few days this might even become a human rights issue and the NHRC might also make a statement. Wait, who knows even the UN and UNSC come out in support of our media since the eminent Lord Meghnad Desai seems to have said the “court order was tantamount to an intimidating attack on the freedom of the press”. An attack? On freedom of the Press? The SC simply ruled it won’t intervene.
There has been a trend lately to rush to the SC with SLPs to either stay or quash proceedings in lower courts. Sanjeev Bhatt’s is another case where the SC has declined to quash proceedings against him. There is a consistency now in SC rulings which appears not so keen in interfering with lower courts except in stray cases. That is the message that the media should have drawn instead of protesting the SC ruling so severely. After all, the Bombay HC still hearing the TimesNow appeal and if their order is unfavourable then going to the SC remains an option. As for 100 crores, does it seem excessive? Well, on the face of it for 15 seconds of infamy it does seem excessive. So let’s look at another case. The “Rahul Gandhi-Sukanya case – Amazing media silence” is an older post on this blog that still remains on top. So what happened in that case?
Indian Express (March 8): A former MLA of the Samajwadi Party, Kishor Samrite, filed a petition in UP against Rahul Gandhi’s alleged illegal detention of a woman named Sukanya. “The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court…slapped a penalty of Rs 50 lakh on…. who had filed a habeas corpus petition, alleging that Rahul Gandhi had raped a girl from Amethi and was keeping her and her parents in illegal detention since 2007. While dismissing the petition of Kishor Samrite, the court also ordered CBI to register a case against him.
Mind you, when the case was filed it was just a few stray newspapers that reported it. When the HC dismissed the case and ordered the penalty of 50 lakhs it was all over the place and the news channels carried the report over and over again. No one really asked the question if 50 lakhs was fair and justified. For one, the petitioner went to a court of law and statements in courts cannot be considered defamation. So Samrite files a petition in the SC which stays the penalty. And who rushes to the SC to get into the case? The CBI! Oh yeah, the CBI which is usually reluctant to investigate certain scams and politicians showed unusual enthusiasm to be a party to the case in SC. Here’s what ET (August 26) reported:
CBI rushes to SC to becomeparty in case against Rahul: In an unusual move, the Central Bureau of Investigation has rushed to the Supreme Court wanting to be a party in an appeal filed by Kishore Samrite against whom a probe was ordered by the Allahabad high court for levelling false charges against Congress general secretary and MP Rahul Gandhi. The HC had asked for the CBI probe against Samrite on March 7. The CBI had lodged a case under Indian Penal Code Sections — 120b (criminal conspiracy), 181 (false statement on oath), 211 (false charges to cause injury ) and 499-500 (defamation). The HC had imposed a fine of Rs 50 lakh on Samrite.
Look at the all the penal codes under which CBI wants to prosecute Samrite. His motivation for the case against Rahul Gandhi may be suspect but not one newspaper or news channel, I repeat NOT ONE, ever questioned whether the 50 lakh penalty was justified. Well, obviously that is not an attack on freedom of speech for media. After all, it concerns the first family. Mind you, not just that, not one single media outlet even questioned why the CBI was so enthusiastic to be a party in the appeal by Samrite. Not one!
Recently Sudheendra Kulkarni and few BJP MLAs and others were arrested and jailed for their involvement in the Cash4Votes scam. This time, it’s the Delhi Police who were acting on SC orders to investigate the scam. These were the ‘whistleblowers’ in the scam and their arrest was shocking to most people. Once again, they were bailed out by the High Court which observed that none of them seemed to have taken any bribes and there appears to be no prima-face against them. Yet, apart from sensationalising their arrests not one media outlet questioned the conduct of Delhi Police and the validity of their actions. How is it that ordinary people are able to see through the acts of DP and yet the wise ones in the media are not. It’s an extraordinary event where the guilty are roaming free and apparently innocent ones were being prosecuted. Did the media stand up for their freedom? Not one! Not one media retailer even asked if Kulkarni and others were actually being “framed” in the whole case. Alright, never mind!
What about frequently calling Narendra Modi a ‘mass muderer’. Does the media have any evidence? I suppose that is not defamation. Should he have desired, NaMo could have sued Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai and others for a 100 crores too. How do they shamlessly carry on such a campaign and yet claim defence for themselves? How do they allow a rogue cop to call NaMo a ‘Common Criminal’ on their news channels and yet not black out that comment. Instead, the media played out that comment over and over again. That is willful defamation many times over. Well, I guess it’s fair game when it comes to others. Did the media plug these horrible utterances?
Roll back to another case, again by none other than the CBI. This was against former Home Minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah. I now don’t even remember how many charges were packed against Shah. Involvement in extortion, Sohrabuddin case, the list might go on. When the news broke, the news channels were up shouting and hollering how the ‘right-hand man’ and ‘aide’ of Narendra Modi was screwed. They clearly implied that because Shah was charged and arrested it was an indictment of Modi and there were those who even demanded Modi’s resignation. Again, not one, I repeat not one, media retailer even bothered to ask if the CBI’s case had any merits or what was the basis on which the charges and arrest were made. The CBI not only opposed bail but even sought Amit Shah to be kept out of the state of Gujarat. This is a plumbing job! The media simply went overboard in using the case to hurl further accusations at the Narendra Modi govt. Defamation, Slander, Libel anybody? The order by the Supreme Court in this particular is not only shocking but exposes the outrageous act of the CBI. Here’s what the TOI (November 18) reported on the SC order:
The bench indicated its agreement with Jethmalani's (Amit Shah’s lawyer) submissions and told additional solicitor general Vivek Tankha, who appeared for CBI, that "the complaints appears to be absolute trash". "Mr Tankha, you (the CBI) are supposed to be the finest investigating agency. You have to respond to all these lapses and deficiencies. The insinuations (against Shah) were wholly unwarranted and totally unfair," the bench said.
Apart from some minor reporting of the SC order and some in the scrolls at the bottom of the TV screen most news outlets buried the item. They were happy to have found the sensational allegations of Vinod Kambli about match-fixing pretty handy.
TimesNow frequently claims to base their reports on secret documents of IB, Home Ministry that they somehow come to access. Other news channels also often claim to possess secret letters and documents of the govt. in their reporting. Yet, not one newspaper or newschannel has ever reported on Sonia Gandhi’s reported illness, her surgery or her the state of her health. Why? No leaks or are the media plumbers doing a good job of plugging it all. But they find enough leaks to do hit jobs on detractors of the govt. Not even the CAG is spared. The 100 crore defamation award is still in the appeal court. There is no denying the severity of the order but is there any sympathy lost for the news channel? The only thing hurt seems to be the media’s collective vanity.