Freedom of Press Not Absolute, Cannot Be Exercised to Defame Individuals: Bombay HC

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"While journalists have a duty to inform the public, it cannot be at the expense of defaming the plaintiff," the court remarked

The Bombay High Court has reiterated that the freedom of the press cannot be leveraged to infringe upon an individual's inherent right to reputation.

Justice Bharati Dangre, presiding over the case, ruled that “The freedom of press, which is being evolved as a species of speech, definitely will have to be balanced against a right, which an individual has to his reputation.”

The court asserted that while truth serves as a complete defence against libel and slander charges, journalists must adhere to the boundaries of their rights to speech and expression, while directing independent journalist Waahiid Ali Khan to remove online articles and videos targeting a businessman,

The case concerned an interim plea by Khanjan Thakkar (Plaintiff), a gold trader based in Dubai, who sought the removal of social media content defaming him. He alleged that under the guise of investigative journalism, Khan circulated false and derogatory information. Thakkar has filed a defamation suit against Khan, seeking damages of Rs. 100 crore.

The court dismissed the notion that journalists could claim immunity merely by arguing that information was provided to them and was in the public interest. It further stated that investigative journalism, despite claims of public interest, does not justify publications that tarnish a person's reputation.

The Court made the order, stating that “Investigative Journalism definitely does not enjoy any special protection and the umbrage of public interest definitely do not permit a publication, which would amount to lowering down the reputation of any person, in any manner particularly without justifying the publication on the basis of its truthfulness.”

The court also acknowledged the challenge of cyber defamation in the digital age, noting that Khan's articles and videos lacked credible sources and did not serve the public interest.

The court emphasised that a journalist's history of exposing scams does not grant him the authority to publish articles or columns that could stir up hatred, ridicule, or contempt towards the plaintiff. Merely claiming that such publications serve the public interest does not absolve the journalist from facing the consequences of their actions.

"While journalists have a duty to inform the public, it cannot be at the expense of defaming the plaintiff," the court remarked.

Consequently, the court ordered Khan to take down the articles and videos in question. Further, the court temporarily restrained Khan from printing, publishing, selling, exhibiting, circulating the disputed articles, and streaming or sharing the video on any social media platform or any other public domain platform, pending the hearing and final disposal of the suit.

Khan is also prohibited from engaging in any other activities that might amount to defamation of the plaintiff.

This directive is to be executed by Khan within one week from the date of the order's upload. In the event of non-compliance, the plaintiff is granted the liberty to seek further remedies through the interim application.


Cause Title: Khanjan Jagadishkumar Thakkar v Waahiid Ali Khan & Ors. [INTERIM APPLICATION (L) NO.399 OF 2024]