The Moneylife Verdict & Protection For Journalists
As long as a reporter has done the necessary checks, and gotten (or tried to get) all points of view, he must be protected from costly litigation. The Moneylife verdict goes a long way in securing that, writes Abraham Mathews
A hundred crores is the kind of number that journalists love to talk about with élan. But rarely, if ever, has a journalist seen that in his, or her, own bank statement. A hundred-crore-lawsuit against a journalist, is however, not a rarity. Not that anybody expects anything to come out of it (for the stories that usually end up in huge defamation suits are, more often than not, meticulously fact-checked) since few news organisations, much less journalists, are valued that much.
But lawsuits are not just about the money. Manoj Bhargava, Deputy General Counsel at the Hindustan Times group, recounts how a large group would sometimes file cases against the media group and its journalists at far flung places like Barh in Bihar, where even making a personal appearance in defence is a nightmare. Arindham Chaudhuri’s IIPM filed a case against the magazine Caravan in Silchar in Assam before the Supreme Court had it transferred to Delhi, calling it an abuse of ‘judicial process’.
But keeping the legal department busy works in subtle ways. Editors are extra cautious when naming some of the largest, (and surprise! surprise! the most controversial) business houses in an unflattering piece. Stories are pruned, imputations are diluted, just so that nobody is offended enough to send a legal notice. Because, all it takes is a slightly irritated judge to shut down an organisation economically. Why take the chance?
It is for this reason that journalism got a shot in the arm last week. A judge of the Bombay High Court, Gautam Patel not only threw out a Rs 100-crore lawsuit by the National Stock Exchange against magazine Moneylife and its co-founders Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu, but also imposed Rs 50 lakh in ‘costs’, all but classifying the case as ‘frivolous litigation’.
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Mumbai Press Club
Article posted on 15/09/2015