NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Monday two news channels — Republic TV and Times Now — that no defamatory content should be displayed on their channels or uploaded on social media.
Issuing notice on a suit filed by Bollywood producers seeking to restarin the channels from making defamatory remarks against the film industry, Justice Rajiv Shakdher observed that people are afraid of the media, the fourth pillar of democracy, because of its powers and cited the episode when Princess Diana died while racing away from the media in 1997.
Some of the film industry’s biggest names, including Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra and Farhan Akhtar, filed the plea together against the ‘media trial’.
“Media can’t run a parallel trial. You are a broadcaster, show news. There is less news and more opinion,” the court told the channels, stressing that things are being pre-judged.
“We expect fair reportage but sadly that is not happening. Not just in India but across the world. We used to find Doordarshan stale but now I wish it comes back. The black and white Doordarshan was so much better,” the judge said.
“Bollywood celebrities are entitled to privacy. Look what happened in the case of Princess Diana... she died because she was being chased by the media. You can’t just go on like this. The courts are the last ones to want to regulate,” Justice Shakdher said.
“Even cuss words are being used during live debates. Nobody is stopping from reporting but language and the manner has to be right.”
The court sought written response in two weeks in the case, and recorded the assurances by the channels to follow the Cable TV Act & Rules, and the Programme Code.
The court also sought to know on Monday as to why Bollywood celebrities have not raised the "media trial" issue as individuals and are being represented via associations in a suit seeking to restrain the media from making alleged "irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks" against the film industry.
No celebrity has filed a suit against the media in individual capacity although advocates, during the hearing, cited instances related to targeting of Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone.
They have sought to restrain various news channels including Times Now and Republic TV from interfering with the right to privacy of persons associated with the industry.
"In the case of Princess Diana, she died because she was racing away from the media. You can't just go on like this. The courts are the last ones to want to regulate," the court said.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher, who said there is a need for some toning down by news channels, also acknowledged some of the outstanding work done by the media.
During the hearing, senior advocate Rajiv Nayar, appearing for the plaintiffs, said there is one channel which was following actress Deepika Padukone since the beginning from her Goa residence to Goa airport and then from Mumbai airport to Mumbai residence, "Now it is alleged as if Shah Rukh Khan has links with Pakistan and ISI," he said.
To this, the judge, "The only question I have is that there are some individuals who claim to be aggrieved, why are they not made plaintiffs? Why is it half hearted?" When Nayar replied that the individuals are members of the association which has filed the suit, the judge said "I understand that. But there is defamation of a class and defamation of individuals. If the individuals are affected, why are they not joining the proceedings. They should come on their own and take steps."
The counsel said he will take instructions from his clients on this aspect and apprise the court on the next date of hearing.
Senior advocate Sandeep Sethi, representing Bennett Coleman group, raised a preliminary objection that the plaintiffs are referring to an individual's social media chats but they are not making him/ her a party to the suit.
The high court asked him to rise above his brief and answer large issues as tomorrow it could by legal fraternity in place of Bollywood.
"There needs to be some toning down. There are orders from NBSA (News Broadcasting Standards Authority). But it seems that news channels are not following that. As an officer of the court, tell me what is the next step here if you do not follow self-regulation?," the judge said, adding that it is a general remark across the board and everyone should think about it.
"It is a little disheartening and demoralises everyone. we expect fair reportage," Justice Shakdher said and recalled the black and white DD era.
"We used to find Doordarshan very stale, but we had some lovely broadcasters then. I think the black and white DD was much better," the judge said.
Advocate Malvika Trivedi, appearing for Republic TV and Arnab Goswami, said the court should also see the outstanding work done by the Media and that recently, it cannot be ignored that there was a lot of information concerning the mysterious deaths of two personalities which had come to the public domain due to the media's role.
To this, the judge said he will be the first person to say that the media has done some outstanding work and made it clear that the court was not saying the media cannot report but they were on the manner of reporting.
"See the kind language of language you are using on TV. Participants in the debate are using curse words," the court said.
It also said courts hesitate in restraining media reports because it is a constitutional right but fair reportage and neutrality is expected.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Arvind Nigam and Sajan Poovayya, appearing for the intermediaries, said they are only platforms and they will abide by the orders passed by the court.
Nayar said it all started with the suicide of Rajput, which later became a murder, then Bollywood became criminal, then drug peddlers and now ISI marks.
"This is how the course of this defamatory -- scurrilous -- I must say, campaign changed," he argued.
The suit said, "This comes in the wake of these channels using highly derogatory words and expressions for Bollywood such as 'dirt', 'filth', 'scum', 'druggies' and expressions such as "it is Bollywood where the dirt needs to be cleaned', 'all the perfumes of Arabia cannot take away the stench and the stink of this filth and scum of the underbelly of Bollywood', 'This is the dirtiest industry in the country', and 'cocaine and LSD drenched Bollywood'.
Those who have filed the suit are The Film and Television Producers Guild Of India (PGI), The Cine and TV Artistes' Association (CINTAA), Indian Film and TV Producers Council (IFTPC), Screenwriters Association (SWA), Aamir Khan Productions, Ad-Labs Films, Ajay Devgn Fflims,Andolan Films, Anil Kapoor Film and Communication Network, Arbaaz Khan Productions, Ashutosh Gowariker Productions, BSK Network and Entertainment, Cape of Good Films, Clean Slate Filmz and Dharma Productions.
The list also includes Emmay Entertainment and Motion Pictures, Excel Entertainment, Filmkraft Productions, Hope Production, Kabir Khan Films, Luv Films, Macguffin Pictures, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, One India Stories, R.S. Entertainment, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Pictures, Red Chillies Entertainment, Reel Life Productions, Reliance Big Entertainment, Rohit Shetty Picturez.
The other plaintiffs are Roy Kapur Films, Salman Khan Films, Sikhya Entertainment, Sohail Khan Productions, Tiger Baby Digital, Vinod Chopra Films, Vishal Bhardwaj Pictures and Yashraj Films.
"The livelihood of persons associated with Bollywood is being severely impacted by the smear campaign being run by the Defendants," the plea said.
It claimed that the privacy of the members of Bollywood is being invaded and their reputations are being irreparably damaged by painting the entire industry as "criminals, seeped in drug culture, and making being part of Bollywood as synonymous with criminal acts in the public imagination".
(With PTI Inputs)