Facing a Rs 100 crore defamation suit from India cricket captain M S Dhoni over its reports on IPL betting scam, Zee TV on Wednesday defended itself in Madras High Court, saying it merely reported the deposition of a suspended IPS officer.
In its counter affidavit filed before the court in compliance of notice issued to it, the TV network said its reports were based on the deposition of G Sampath Kumar before the Supreme Court-appointed Mudgal Committee. Dhoni had filed the suit claiming Rs 100 crore damages for allegedly telecasting “malicious” news that he was involved in betting, spot and match fixing of IPL matches.
The Zee Television Network denied it deliberately attempted to malign Dhoni and accused him of attempting to gag media from discussing an issue of national and public importance. As responsible journalists, they had a duty to report the “sorry saga” of Indian cricket and put forth questions in the mind of every citizen of the country, it contended.
In an interim order effective for two weeks, the court had on March 18 restrained Zee News and News Nation channels from telecasting any news linking Dhoni with the IPL betting/fixing scam and issued notices to the defendants.
Dhoni, in his suit, submitted that the defendants had been carrying highly defamatory, scandalous and libellous false reports and statements since February 11, 2014. Zee, in its counter, said Dhoni was not higher than game of cricket and contended the “overwhelming public interest” in the matter dis-entitles him from claiming immunity from the very serious questions on the ground of individual reputation.
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The counter said Dhoni had not yet been given a clean chit by the Mudgal committee, which has recommended an independent and full-fledged probe into the issue. The channel also submitted that the contents of deposition of Sampath Kumar, who initially investigated the case, came into public domain on February 11 when a magazine published on its website the extracts.
The counter further said the questions raised by them ought to have been investigated by the investigating authority, and the doubts raised by them were fair and honest expression of opinion in the minds of media, experts and as well as layman. “It is the duty of responsible journalists to expose the conduct of State officials in the matter of criminal Investigation and that is exactly what they did,” it said.
Despite several bids, there was no response from both Dhoni and the Chennai police, Zee TV maintained. Zee’s counter also said that Mudgal committee raised serious questions on the investigation conducted by the crime branch CID of Chennai police. The matter is expected to be taken up for further hearing next week.