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IBF, NBA concerned over impact of court order in Times Now case

Such unprecedented punitive conditions to hear appeal can be “severely detrimental” to the media Industry

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | November 21, 2011

The India Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and News Broadcasters Association (NBA) have expressed surprise and concern over the impact of the recent decision of the Supreme Court that dismissed the special leave petition (SLP) filed by Times Now seeking relief against a High Court decree that stipulated the channel to deposit Rs 20 crore and furnish a bank guarantee of Rs 80 crore to hear an appeal in a defamation case.

The case involves the award of unprecedented damages of Rs 100 crore by a district court in Pune, for alleged defamation arising from an evidently inadvertent error of Justice Sawant’s photograph instead of a photograph of another judge (whose name was phonetically similar to that of Justice Sawant’s in connection with the Ghaziabad Provident Fund scam. Such damages came to be awarded in spite of the fact that Times Now had issued a public apology and expressed true contrition for the mistake.

Both the industry bodies agree with views that have appeared in the media that such decisions should be reviewed and reconsidered, because if media is compelled to pay up damages of such quantum, despite the issuance of a public apology for an inadvertent error, it would effectively cripple the functioning of the media.

IBF said in a statement, “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 been tendered by Times Now.”

The media plays a very important role in protection the fundamental rights of citizens and is often termed as the ‘fourth pillar of democracy’. Any curb on the media’s independence is a threat to the democratic process and must be challenged, added IBF.

NBA, on its part, has noted with approval the views expressed recently in the media on Justice (Retd) PB Sawant’s defamation suit against Times Now, 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.

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, NBA said in the statement.

NBA further stated that the imposition of a condition of pre-depositing or securing such huge quantum of damages effectively cripples the broadcaster’s right to even seek redressal by way of appeal.

The NBA also noted with sadness that the Supreme Court has also declined to interfere with the order of the Bombay High Court by summarily dismissing the SLP filed by Times Now.

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