Freedom of press must be balanced against individual’s right to reputation: HC

The freedom of press will have to be balanced against the right which an individual has to his reputation, the court added.

Mumbai: The freedom of press can not be used to violate a person’s “inherent” right to reputation and investigative journalism does not enjoy any special protection, the Bombay High Court has said while asking a journalist to remove online articles and videos targeting a businessman.

The articles and videos uploaded by independent journalist Waahiid Ali Khan were prima facie defamatory, observed Justice Bharati Dangre in an order passed on April 2. The order copy became available on Wednesday.

Khanjan Thakkar, a gold trader operating from Dubai, had sought an interim order that Khan should delete all social media articles and videos slandering him.

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Thakkar has already filed a defamation suit against Khan in the high court, seeking Rs 100 crore in damages.

The businessman was named by Mumbai police as an accused in a case related to online betting/gambling scam, and based on this First Information Report, Khan uploaded a series of stories and videos against him levelling baseless and defamatory allegations, the application said.

Justice Dangre noted in the order that Khan failed to submit any material supporting his allegations.

Khan’s lawyer argued that he was exercising his freedom of speech and expression, a constitutional right, and as a journalist it was also his fundamental duty to disburse information in public interest.

The court, however, noted that media persons cannot rely on this defence when someone’s reputation is at stake.

“A journalist or reporter is not expected to transgress the limits of his right of speech and expression and cannot claim protection by simply stating that the information was provided to him by someone and it is in public interest to divulge the same,” the order said.

The freedom of press will have to be balanced against the right which an individual has to his reputation, the court added.

Investigative journalism does not enjoy any special protection, and “the umbrage of public interest” does not permit the publication of any article that would amount to lowering the reputation of a person, the order further said.

“Every man possesses an inherent personal right to have his reputation reserved inviolate,” Justice Dangre said, adding that a balance has to be struck between a person’s right to enjoy his or her reputation, and the freedom of speech and expression of another person.

Cyber defamation or defaming someone online through social media, websites or any other digital platform was an emerging challenge in the digital era, the HC observed.

The articles and videos uploaded by Khan indicated that they were not supported by any material or source, and the investigative journalism he was attempting was not in the interest of general public, it said.

“As a journalist, though he may be duty-bound to apprise the public of facts and data, it definitely cannot be attempted at the cost of defaming the plaintiff (Thakkar),” the HC noted, ordering Khan to take down the articles and videos in question.

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