A civil court judge has overturned an order by his predecessor, which stated that media must use disclaimers while covering the sexual harassment case against former TERI chief R K Pachauri. Additional District Judge Sumit Dass passed an order on February 13 stating that interim orders passed by his predecessor, ADJ Jitendra Kumar Mishra, who had asked the media to report on the case in a particular manner, are “uncalled for” and, therefore, stand “vacated”.
After registration of an FIR against him by a colleague in February 2015, and with more women raising allegations in the months that followed, a civil suit was filed by Pachauri against media houses the next year. The civil suit sought restraint on reporting of the issue, and also involved a Rs 1 crore suit against lawyer Vrinda Grover for allegedly making “false and frivolous allegations”.
Two women who made allegations against Pachauri had given interviews to news channels. The former TERI chief had made Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd, NDTV and India Today, as well as the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, parties to this suit — seeking a permanent injunction against any reporting on the statements made by the women.
While hearing the civil suit, ADJ Mishra, in February 2017, passed an interim order that the media should publish a ‘subtitle’ while reporting, which read: ‘In any court the allegations have not been proved and they may not be correct’. The ADJ had also ordered that this should be in “bold letters” and similar in the manner to which news channels flag breaking news, so that the public is aware that no crime or offence against Pachauri has been proved. However, ADJ Dass stated that Pachauri’s injunction request falls “foul to the said explicit proposition of law”.
“Such restraint, as sought, not only amounts to enforcing a gag order upon the media but at the same time prevents the right of public to be kept updated about the developments — their right to know is infracted or trampled upon,” the court said.
ADJ Dass also said that his predecessor’s directions — the incident be reported with certain “disclaimers or caveats” — need to be “re-visited”. “Now if the media cannot be restrained by way of any injunction… by adopting the same principle or analogy, the media also cannot be compelled to report or publish the matter in any particular way or laced with condition so that the innocence of the plaintiff is prominently highlighted or displayed,” the court said.
The court added that if a person “cannot be gagged”, then he “cannot be coerced to speak in a particular manner” either. “Both affronts the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression,” the judge said. ADJ Dass, however, stated that while publishing or telecasting any news report, views of the plaintiff or his authorised representative on the subject must be sought. The court, however, said it must be highlighted “that the matter is still sub judice.” The trial on the damages is still ongoing.