In the FIR filed by Sakal Times against our reporter Prateek Goyal, the Bombay High Court has passed an order in favour of Newslaundry. A bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale on January 27 directed the Pune police to “not insist for production of his laptop and hard disk”.
Previously, on October 20 last year, the high court had ruled that the police could proceed with the investigation but shall not file a chargesheet without its permission.
In March 2020, soon after prime minister Narendra Modi had sent India into lockdown to contain Covid, Prateek that the Sakal Media Group, one of Maharashtra’s leading media houses run by the powerful Pawar family, had sacked 15 employees in violation of a government directive to not terminate workers or cut their wages during the pandemic. They worked in the editorial division of Sakal Times, a daily run by the Sakal Media Group.
Two and a half months later, Sakal Times laid off its entire editorial staff of 50-60 people, and shut down its print edition. Newslaundry duly reported this news on June 11.
On June 16, Newslaundry got a defamation notice for Rs 65 crore from Sakal Media Pvt Ltd alleging that our reports were false and defamatory.
We to the notice explaining that these accusations were baseless, and asked the Sakal Media Group to point out any facts in our reports that they found disputable.
Instead of explaining what specific facts they disputed, the media house filed an FIR against Prateek at Pune’s Vishrambaug police station on September 16. It was registered under the Trademarks Act on the grounds that we had used the Sakal logo in the illustrations accompanying our reports.
The same day Prateek was informed by his neighbours that the police had visited his home to arrest him while he was out. Prateek was also refused a copy of the FIR by the Vishrambaug station house officer, Dadasaheb Chuddappa.
It was then that Newslaundry moved the high court praying that the FIR be quashed. We also went to the Pune district court to seek anticipatory bail for Prateek. The high court ruled that while the police could proceed with the investigation it should not file a chargesheet without the permission of the court.
On November 1, Prateek received a call from Deepak Jadhav, the police official investigating the Sakal Times complaint. Jadhav demanded that Prateek hand over his laptop at the police station the next day. Prateek asked if he could get a copy of the order or notice to seize his laptop. No, he could not, the police official replied, and insisted that his verbal order was enough.
Prateek also asked if the police would provide his laptop’s hash value, which acts as an electronic seal on the device, if he were to hand it over. Jadhav said he couldn’t entertain this request either.
Six days later, Newslaundry was sent a notice to provide the Vishrambaug police the following details:
Newslaundry responded on November 16. “By taking due care of the saving clause enshrined in Section 30 of the Trademarks Act, 1999 and therefore as per our interpretation of law my client has not committed any crime as such, there is no requirement as such to furnish laptop desktop or any proprietary information,” our lawyer told the police.
Additionally, we noted, “Repeated notices on this matter constitutes harassment and not investigation. I humbly request you again not to continue this line of inquiry and allow my client’s reporters and other employees to continue their journalistic duties which are critical for a healthy and thriving democracy.”
As for Newslaundry using the Sakal logo in the illustrations for our reports on the media house, we responded, “Usage of logo in news media reportage and coverage is routine and normal practice when the report or coverage is about a particular entity or institution”. We pointed out that Sakal Media had done the same on multiple occasions.
A separate notice sent on November 7 asked Raman Kripal, managing editor of Newslaundry, to appear before the Vishrambaug police nine days later. It stated that during the course of their investigation the police had found that the report under question was received by Raman “on March 26, 2020 and June 10, 2020 for scrutiny and approving and uploading”, which provided reasonable grounds to summon and question him.
To this, we responded:
The next hearing in the Bombay High Court on quashing the FIR against Prateek is scheduled for February 11.
We are grateful to our readers who contributed to NL Legal Fund and enabled us to fight this case: Abhimanyu Chitoshia, Leslie Isaac, Sushanth V, Pranjal Gupta, Vedanta Pawar, Rishit Mehta, Kaushik Nath, Prabhjot Juneja, Joey Pathak, Kapil Shivarkar, Shanay Jhaveri, Ritesh Nigam, Shobhanjana Kalita, Ankur Mishra, Vikas Chahal, Debargha Bhattacharjee, Pulkita Agrawal, Aditya Rajurkar, Ramesh Shankar, Vikhyath Kamath, Rahul Tandey, Chinmay Kulkarni, Amit Singh, Prem, Kedar, Kaustav Brahma, Aditya Aagare, Praneet Gupta, Lalith Gudipati, Shalini Nair, Anshul Jain, Dev Purandare, Sudarshana Mukhopadhyay, Mohammed Gausul Reza, Sidhart Singh, Abhishek Saraf, M Neha.
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