A Delhi Court has rejected an application filed by Dainik Jagran seeking removal of an article published by Alt News observing that there was no reason for the Court to intervene at an early stage and stifle the ever-widening contours of free speech.
The article in question, published by Alt News dated May 30, 2021, was titled “Dainik Jagaran’s misleading reports portray mass burials in Prayagaraj haven’t risen due to COVID”. Dainik Jagran had therefore alleged that the article carried false, incorrect and scandalous statements regarding mass burials in Prayagraj.
Civil Judge Chitranshi Arora dismissed the application seeking a temporary injunction against Alt News and observed thus:
“In the instant case, I am of the considered opinion that there is no certainty that defendants defence would fail at trial and there is an equal chance that the defendants may succeed in proving the same. In such circumstances, the plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case in his favour, since a reasonable and probable defence has been raised by the defendants, which needs determination at trial.”
It was submitted on behalf of Alt News that Dainik Jagran’s prayer was is in violation of its freedom of the press as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India.
It was also averred that the suit was a SLAPP suit meaning ‘strategic lawsuit against public participation and that there was no prima facie case, irreparable loss or balance of convenience in favour of Dainik Jagran.
Considering the arguments and the relevant extracts from the article in question, the Court was of the view that Alt News had raised a probable defence, which may or may not be proved at trial.
In this backdrop, the Court said:
“However, a prima facie view of the article shows that the defendants have based the contents of the article on various interviews and research. Whether they finally succeed in proving their defence or not is a matter of trial and cannot be determined at this stage.”
“In such a case, where the defence of truth taken by the defendants may stand a chance to succeed at trial, there is no reason for the Court to intervene at such an initial stage and stifle the ever-widening contours of free speech, as developed by the Higher Courts. Freedom of speech becomes all the more significant when the subject matter is a matter of larger public concern. In the instant case as well, the impugned article talks about the mass burials in the state of U.P during the horrific second wave of the pandemic Covid-19, which of course, is a concern of and for the masses in India.”
Accordingly, the Court dismissed the application under Order 39 Rule 1 & 2 of CPC.