- NL Sena
The Delhi High court has upheld the liberty of the press, allowing it to report on the alleged case of sexual misconduct.
The Economic Times (ET) on February 18, Wednesday, carried a front-page story on a complaint lodged at the Lodhi Road police station against The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) Director-General and climate scientist, RK Pachauri for sexual harassment.
The report stated that a 29-year-old female employee had cited “unwanted physical advances besides being the recipient of SMS and WhatsApp messages, emails and handwritten notes” soon after she joined TERI in 2013. Pachauri, in an emailed response to ET, denied the allegations and stated he had been a victim of hacking.
Within a few hours though, the story was taken down from the newspaper’s website. Expectedly, Twitter smelled a conspiracy.
ET, though, putting speculation to rest, tweeted out that the story had been removed owing to an injunction order passed by the Delhi High Court.
Mainstream media has since refrained from reporting the story in light of the High Court order restraining reportage of the case. Some, however, tried working around the gag order – albeit in a puerile fashion: a few publications carried extracts from a semi-erotic novel that Pachauri had written a while ago.
Newslaundry is in possession of the court order passed late at night on February 17, in which the Delhi High Court says, “….the defendants are restrained from publishing or carry [sic] out any story or article pertaining to the complainant…”
Here, “defendants” refers to Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (the publishers of ET) and “John Doe”, which implies unknown persons and could mean other media houses.
What that means is that there was a restraining order on ET and other media houses from reporting on the complaint. “In case exparte injunction is not granted, irreparably injuring would likely to cause to the plaintiff which it may not be possible to undo by any means [sic],” the order stated.
According to sources at ET, the journalist who reported on the complaint had sent a detailed questionnaire to Pachauri on February 16, Monday, at around 9:00 pm. “We gave him 24 hours to respond considering the sensitivity of the issue,” the source said. ET received Pachauri’s response on February 17 at around 7:00 pm and was informed about the High Court injunction order shortly after midnight by which time the edition had already gone to print.
Pachauri’s counsel Pavan Duggal declined to comment.
In another order passed yesterday, however, the Delhi High Court modified the restraint order and directed that ET and other media houses can report on the police action and other legal proceedings pertaining to the case, including the outcome of the proceedings of the complaint filed by the complainant before the committee under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal).
The economic daily did carry a story in today’s edition about a First Information Report (FIR) lodged against Pachauri in the Lodhi Road police station.
In effect, the Delhi High court has upheld the liberty of the press under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution to report on the case. Strangely, even now, in spite of the ET report based on a publicly available FIR, the story seems to be gaining little attention of the mainstream media.
Newslaundry got in touch with the 29-year-old complainant earlier today. She stated that she did not wish to comment on the issue and needed time to recover from the exhaustion she had suffered over the past few days. In complete violation of her privacy, certain prominent journalists had tweeted out the entire complaint she had registered with the police yesterday without blurring her name.
Needless to say, such attempts at sensationalism only make the case stronger for those seeking a gag on the media.
“It has taken a lot of courage for the girl to come this far and register a complaint. While I understand why a certain case may be newsworthy, it cannot be at the cost of my client’s privacy,” said the complainant’s lawyer Jiten Mehra.
(With inputs from Arunabh Saikia)