Cobrapost| Allegations as to reliability of News is a publicly debatable matter; granting ex-parte injunction sans satisfying constitutional standards is infraction on freedom of speech: Delhi HC

“Democracy presupposes robustness in debates, which often turns the spotlight on public figures and public institutions-like media houses, journals and editors.”

Delhi High Court: The Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat and A.K. Chawla, JJ. addressed the blazing issue of  “Cobrapost” sting operation all over the electronic and print media by addressing two appeals in a suit for permanent injunction.

Introduction:

The matrix of facts which follows in this popularly talked about case is that ‘Dainik Bhaskar Group’, i.e. the plaintiffs had complained of attempt at defamation for which they sought a permanent injunction against the defendants in the form of publishing subject content in any manner. For the scene of circumstances, impugned order had already been granted in the form of ex parte injunction.

Further, the points to be noted are that, the defendants in the present case are, first defendant a registered society which owns and operates a website in the name and style  of ‘Cobrapost.com’, the second defendant founder and editor-in-chief of the Forum of the above stated first defendant and third defendant claims to be a senior journalist associated with the Forum.

Allegations:

Plaintiff had received an email from ‘Cobrapost’ stating that the third defendant had some recorded conversation with the persons associated with plaintiffs revealing partisan ideologies, covert threat in the email of publicizing the conversation through the defendant’s program with clear suggestion that the said ideologies are endorsed by the plaintiff. Forum had also published an invitation on its website for the exclusive screening of its documentary that would allegedly expose biggest names in the Indian media. Plaintiff had denied all the stated allegations and said that it all amounts to media trial and gravely contravenes the principles of free speech and expression and in case any such conversation has been recorded then those views would be of the individuals and the plaintiffs. The counsel for the plaintiff also placed reliance on a PIL order Court on its own motion v. State, ILR (2008) II Del 44, to say that “sting” operations are suspect at the least and illegal; they cannot be used by the media to vilify anyone.

Appellant’s who are also the defendants stated that the impugned order made ex-parte was faulted. Further, it was submitted that without a discussion on the merits or the facts, an injunction order, as wide as the impugned order, amounts to a blanket censorship, which cannot be countenanced in a free country which cherishes its liberties and free speech. Reliance was placed on A. Venkatasubbiah Naidu v. S. Chellappan, 2000 (7) SCC 695, for the proposition that an appeal against a blanket injunction order is maintainable.

Hence, the High Court on consideration of each and every point submitted by the parties, concluded its decision by stating that an unreasoned order granting ex-parte injunction for the entire duration of the suit, is impermissible, for the stated statement it relied upon the case of Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund v. Kartick Das, 1994 (4) SCC 225, therefore, on this point the Court was of the opinion that ex parte injunction, which the impugned order gave, to subsist during the entirety of the pendency of suit, was unjustified. Further, mere frame of the relief of permanent injunction does not alter the principle.

For the above-stated reasons, the impugned order is set aside and matter remitted to learned Single Judge. [Pushp Sharma v. D.B. Corpn. Ltd.,2018 SCC OnLine Del 11537, decided on 28-09-2018]

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