Cobrapost 136: Delhi High Court allows publication of Dainik Bhaskar stings

Cobrapost has released the stings it had carried out on the Dainik Bhaskar Group.

ByCherry Agarwal
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Cobrapost 136: Delhi High Court allows publication of Dainik Bhaskar stings
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On September 28, a two-judge Bench of the Delhi High Court lifted the injunction imposed on parts of Cobrapost‘s sting Operation 136: Part 2. The injunction was imposed after the Dainik Bhaskar Group appealed that the sting was being released with the sole intention to sully its reputation.

Setting aside the earlier order, the court stated that the ex parte injunction, given by the earlier order, “to subsist during the entirety of the pendency of the suit, was unjustified”. It also stated: “An unreasoned order granting ex-parte injunction for the entire duration of the suit, is impermissible.” Earlier, a single judge bench had granted the injunction without listening to Cobrapost‘s version.

Soon after the injunction was lifted, Cobrapost published its three-part sting on the Dainik Bhaskar Group on its Youtube channel. Cobrapost tweeted out that since there was no restraint any longer, it was publishing the video transcripts in public interest.

In its judgment, the bench comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and AK Chawla alluded that media houses should not be thin-skinned. Referring to an earlier order in a different case, the court cited: “those who fill public positions must not be too thin-skinned in respect of references made upon them.” Excerpts from the order where the judges comment on news and freedom of speech are reproduced below:

“The members of the public and citizens of this country expect news and fair comment as to whether a public institution – including a media house or journal (which cannot claim any exemption from being public institutions as they are the medium through which information is disseminated, and are one of the pillars of democracy) functions properly. In case there are allegations which result in controversies as to the reliability of the news which one or the other disseminates to the public, that too is a matter of public debate. Unless it is demonstrated at the threshold that the offending content is malicious or palpably false, an injunction and that too an ex-parte one, without recording any reasons should not be given. Democracy presupposes robustness in debates, which often turns the spotlight on public figures and public institutions – like media houses, journals and editors. If courts are to routinely stifle debate, what cannot be done by law by the State can be achieved indirectly without satisfying exacting constitutional standards that permit infractions on the valuable right to freedom of speech.”

Setting aside the order, the court has referred the case back to the single-judge Bench for further hearing. The case will now be heard on October 3.

The case began with Cobrapost releasing a tranche of sting videos, Operation 136, earlier this year. The first part was released in March, while the second part was released in May. The stings purportedly showed how a section of Indian media houses agreed to run a pro-Hindutva campaign in exchange for money. The sting was carried out by journalist Pushp Sharma who posed as Acharya Chhatrapal Atal from Shri Bhagwat Geeta Prachar Samiti.

Part 1 of the sting featured representatives from 16 media houses, including India TV, Dainik Jagran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA, Amar Ujala, UNI, Punjab Kesari, ScoopWhoop and rediff.com, while part 2 of the sting featured the likes of Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagran, The New Indian Express and the Open magazine. The stings on Dainik Bhaskar Group were supposed to be a part of the latter.

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