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No one can become authority to pre-decide what can be published in press: Delhi court


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New Delhi: No one can become an authority to pre-decide what can and cannot be published in the Press, a Delhi court has said while refusing to restrain a Hindi news channel from showing alleged defamatory contents against a private hospital in Delhi in connection to the death of a man.

District Judge (Commercial Court) Man Mohan Sharma, however, directed the news channel and two of its reporters to prominently publish the version of the hospital and the facts made available to them by its representatives/officials.

The court was hearing a suit seeking to injunct or restrain the news channel from defaming the hospital by showing news content which was allegedly false and a one-sided version of the story.

On May 5, two of the television network’s reporters reported that a 60-year-old patient had died as the private hospital allegedly denied to admit him despite his condition being serious.

The court directed the news channel to publish the version of the hospital within two days of the communication of the order to them and it should be done on a continuing basis as long as the news is reported by them on any print, electronic, social or any other media.

It said in its order that with the scope of freedom, there is expectation of responsibility from the Press in the same measure.

“Rights and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. In the arena of responsible journalism, it is the duty of the Press to present a balanced version by taking stock of the facts from both the sides, rather than propagating one sided judgmental version of an aspect. It is the duty of the Press to inform and by no stretch of imagination it can include within its scope and ambit of the right to misinform its audience/readers, it added.

The court further said that it is also incumbent upon the news channel and the reporters not to press into service their own judgment based on unverified and one-sided facts and their duty was to conform themselves to the true ethics of responsible journalism.

The freedom of Press can be defined as licence to publish freely subject to consequences of law’. The legal jurisprudence has developed and crystallised that there can be no-pre-censorship as to the publication by the Press. No one can become an authority to pre-decide what can be published and what cannot be published.

“However, any such publication is subject to consequences in accordance with law, that is action for libel, slander or defamation for any false or incorrect reporting, it said.

It added that considering the arena in which the freedom of Press has developed and the fact that there can be no pre-censorship, the restraint order cannot be passed against the news channel by retraining them from publishing the news pertaining to the incident of May 5.

However, in order to meet the ends of justice, it is incumbent upon the defendants to verify the facts from the side of the hospital and to take the version of the facts of the hospital and publish it in its true spirit prominently and leave the matter to the discretion/ judgement of the viewers/audience…

“Therefore, ex-parte ad-interim injunction is passed thereby directing the defendants to prominently publish the version of the hospital and the facts made available to them by its representatives/officials, the court said.

The hospital submitted before the court that on May 5, a private car came at the gate of the hospital in the morning and as per the government guidelines, there was a requirement of screening the visitors for COVID-19 or coronavirus symptoms through thermal screening.

However, the car took a U-Turn after waiting for a minute, which has been recorded on the CCTV camera installed at the hospital, it claimed.

It further said that on the same day a reporter of the news channel posted an allegedly false tweet against the hospital alleging that the patient in the car died within an hour due to negligence on the part of the hospital.

Thereafter, the reporter allegedly launched a tirade against the hospital which is continuing unabated wherein alleged false information has been pressed into service and there was one-way reporting without confirming/verifying the true facts from the hospital, it claimed.

The hospital further claimed that these acts of omissions of the news channel and the reporters are in total defiance of the ethics by which ethical journalism is governed, and the reporting should not be judgmental or in ignorance of the veracity and credibility of the facts.

The hospital alleged that its very existence was at stake due to the tirade launched by the news channel through its reporters by using social networking platforms.

It has sought directions of the court for recovery of damages of Rs 10 lakh from the news channel, its two reporters and editor in chief, for alleged defamation, mental torture, pain and agony.

The suit also sought directions to the news channel to immediately stop circulating and publishing the alleged defamatory contents and remove it from social media and electronic media.


Also read: New panel of officials, ‘credible journalists’ to help improve India’s press freedom rank


 

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