IBF, NBA react strongly to SC's refusal to stay Bombay High Court order imposing high penalty on Times Now

NEW DELHI: The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the News Broadcasters Association today reacted strongly over the impact of the recent dismissal by Supreme Court of the Special Leave Petition filed by Times Now.

The English news channel had sought relief against a Bombay High Court order directing it to deposit Rs 200 million and furnish bank guarantee for Rs 800 million to hear an appeal in a defamation case.

Earlier, a district court in Pune had asked the channel to cough up Rs 1 billion as damages in favour of Justice (Retd) PB Sawant for alleged defamation. The channel had published the photograph of Justice Sawant in place of another Judge whose name was phonetically similar to that of Justice Sawant in connection with the Ghaziabad Provident Fund scam. 
The channel had appealed to the High Court which had said that operation of the Rs 1 billion decree will be stayed only if Times Now deposits Rs 200 million in Court and secures the remaining Rs 800 million by a bank guarantee.

Expressing "great surprise and concern", the IBF said "We have been informed that conditions involving quantum of damages of this kind are unheard of in the history of defamation laws and effectively cripples the media‘s right to seek redressal by way of appeal. In a legal environment where awarding of exemplary and punitive damages are rarely seen, the trial court‘s decision definitely raises serious concerns as regards the media‘s freedom of speech and expression. This case is an example of how an unintentional and inadvertent error on the part of the media can result in onerous economical burden for itself, despite a public apology being tendered by Times Now."

Expressing its "sadness" at the Supreme Court decision, the NBA in a separate statement expressed its approval of the views expressed recently in the media on the Justice Sawant - Times Now suit, whereby eminent members of Society, including jurists of high attainment have said that in the larger interest of the constitutional guarantee of free speech, the decision should be revisited and reconsidered.

The IBF added that the Media plays a very important role in protecting the fundamental rights of citizens and is often termed as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy. An independent, fearless and competitive media is an essential ingredient of a true democracy. Any curb on media independence is a threat to the democratic process and must be challenged. If stipulations such as these become the norm, news channels would be targeted at every instance, thereby affecting the survival and existence of this news industry. It also would challenge the democratic environment and the citizens‘ right to seek information.

The IBF also agreed with the recent views that have appeared in the media on this case, that such decisions should be reviewed and reconsidered. If media is compelled to pay up damages of such quantum, especially when a public apology has been issued for ‘an inadvertent error‘, it would effectively cripple the functioning of the media and an economic burden of such nature would completely jeopardize media business as it directly impacts media freedom, independence and survival, the very essentials of a democratic set up in any country.

The NBA said "if innocent errors committed by media are visited with such dire legal consequences and if media companies are compelled to pay such disproportionately exorbitant damages despite the issuance of a public apology, it would effectively cripple the functioning of the media. Economic burden of such gargantuan amounts would completely jeopardize media businesses and will directly impact media freedom, independence and survival, which are essential for a vibrant democratic set up in any country."

Thereafter, to impose a condition of pre-depositing or securing such huge quantum of damages - without which the broadcaster may face imminent attachment of its assets - effectively cripples the broadcaster‘s right to even seek redressal by way of appeal.
The NBA added that the media plays a very important role in protecting the fundamental rights of the people, including the public‘s right to know and is often termed as "the fourth pillar" of democracy. An independent, fearless and dynamic media is a critical ingredient of a true democracy. Any curb on media independence whether direct or indirect, is a serious threat to the democratic process itself and must not be countenanced. If stipulations such as these become the norm, news media will be targeted at every instance, thereby affecting the very survival and existence of the news industry as a whole.

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