defamation case indian express

Bombay High Court: In a suit by Indian Express seeking ancillary reliefs including decree for damages to the extent of Rs 100 crores with specific directions to the defendants who allegedly published defamatory news articles on their e-paper ‘Sprouts’ circulated on other social media platforms and an unconditional apology, Manish Pitale, J. issued suitable directions against the owners of online news portal ‘Sprouts’ to comply with ad-interim directions within 48 hours and take down defaming news report circulation through specified Facebook pages and Tweets.

On 14-12-2022, the Court had discovered that “prima facie, the articles appeared to be defamatory, particularly when no justification was provided whatsoever for publishing such articles” and had directed the defandants not to republish/re-post/upload/forward/circulate the said news reports or articles dated 3-11-2022 and 6-11-2022 containing similar allegations against Indian Express. Such articles stated that the Editor of Marathi daily ‘Loksatta’ attended a lunch hosted by the Deputy Chief Minister and also, received a gift in the form of voucher, indicating that the Editor through such actions compromised the hallowed principles that journalists ought to follow, and that the articles published in Marathi Daily allegedly favoured the Dy. CM and other politicians.

The Court referred to the existing ad-interim reliefs in favour of Indian Express as mentioned above. The Court referred to the legal position in such cases through Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Ltd. v. Chitroopa Palit, 2003 SCC OnLine Bom 702 throwing light on difference of principles of law around grant of interlocutory reliefs in India and England, clarifying that a mere plea of justification would not be sufficient for denial of interim relief in India.

The Court applied the same test to the affidavit filed by primary defendants and observed that “there does not appear to be even prima facie justification offered by the said Defendants for publishing the said news reports/articles in its e-paper.” The Court pointed out that there are no details apart from the reference to the alleged compromise with high standards of journalism.

The Court highlighted that as per the defendants, the editor of a well-known Marathi Daily attending such event was enough for making such allegations against the plaintiffs. It further noted the lack of material placed on record by defendants to indicate as to the nature of articles or other material allegedly brought into public domain by the Plaintiffs for benefiting the Dy CM or other politicians as a quid pro quo for having attended the aforesaid event, and that there was no justification on part of the defendants.

The Court was convinced of a strong prima facie case for grant of ad-interim reliefs, finding the balance of convenience in favour of Indian Express. The Court opined that unless such reliefs are granted, the plaintiffs will continue to suffer grave and irreparable loss due to the said articles being prima facie defamatory in nature.

The Court directed the primary defendants to comply with ad-interim directions within 48 hours and take down defaming news report circulation through specified Facebook pages and Tweets.

[The Indian Express (P) Ltd. v. Unmesh Padmakar Gujarathi, 2023 SCC OnLine Bom 1147, Order dated 5-6-2023]

Order by: Justice Manish Pitale

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Applicants: Advocate Dr. Abhinav Chandrachud, Advocate Pranit Kulkarni, Advocate Tejaswi Ghag, Advocate Shivam Singh, Advocate Poorvi Kamani;

For Defendants: Advocate Vishal Shriyan, Advocate Arsalan Thaver, Advocate Vishal Shriyan, Advocate Akash Menon, Advocate Bency Ramakrishnan, Advocate Alankar Kirpekar, Advocate Ayush Tiwari.

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