STATING THAT constitutional guarantee of free speech does not “confer a right” to defame persons and harm their reputation by “false and unsubstantiated allegations”, a Delhi Court on Saturday “restrained” the media from reporting on the FIR filed against former Orissa High Court Judge I M Quddusi, an accused in the medical college bribery case. Quddusi, who was arrested by the CBI in the corruption case related to Prasad Education Trust in September last year, is out on bail. In their notice for impeachment of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Friday, Opposition parties had listed the case as one of the five grounds of alleged misconduct against him.
Quddusi and five others have been accused of trying to influence court proceedings over an application to grant admission rights to a UP-based private medical college, Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences, barred by the Medical Council of India.
“By way of this temporary injunction order… all the media houses, whether print or electronic or internet, and their associates are hereby restrained from publishing, republishing, repeating any article or write-ups, or telecasting or re-telecasting any programmes or debates or interviews or opinions or reports or offshoot reports or publicising in any other manner, directly or indirectly, pertaining to FIR bearing no. RC 10(A)/ACIII/2017/New Delhi dated 19.09.2017 registered at PS CBI New Delhi, till the time police completes its investigation and files appropriate report before the Court or till further orders, whichever is earlier. Further, any publication/ telecast/ any other form of reporting still existing on any of the websites or in any other electronic form is directed to be withdrawn,” Additional District Judge Twinkle Wadhwa said on Saturday.
The court, however, allowed the media to report on court proceedings pertaining to the FIR, and the final conclusion of the police report as and when it is filed, under the ambit of “fair reporting” on the basis of “true, correct and verified information”.
Quddusi’s counsel Vijay Aggarwal had filed an application asking that media be restrained from publishing any proceedings connected to the FIR. The application said that various media houses had published and telecast extracts of the purported conversation between Quddusi and other accused in the case. He asked how confidential documents were given to the media when they had not been given a copy. Quddusi pleaded that there should not be any trial by media and “administration of justice” needs to be kept aside from any “extreme influence”.
The court said that prima facie, any further publication would be “destructive of reputation of the plaintiff as a retired judge and as senior counsel, and would result in loss of confidence in the institution itself”. It said that after a fair reading of the material available on record, it appeared that there is a “real and tangible risk to the plaintiff in not getting fair trial and open justice”.
Naming The Times of India, Times Now, The Wire and ABP News, the court said: “Defendants (media houses) have not placed on record nor pleaded the basis of the truth. The media report is based primarily on said tape-recorded conversation between the plaintiff and some other individuals. None of the defendants have placed on record or pleaded the source from where they procured the said tapes. It is the argument of all the defendants that they were not the first ones to publish the same and some other media house has already published it. Hence, it was in public domain…Taking the plea of public domain, defendants cannot be permitted to continue with the publication and telecast of unsubstantiated facts of a case where investigation is still pending.”
It added that the tapes are yet to be proved in courts of law. The media houses pleaded that advocate Prashant Bhushan had given the recorded conversation to Supreme Court judges, along with his complaint, so it is in public domain.
“However, the said tapes, as per the own case of defendants, was given to SC judges only. Then how media houses came to lay their hands on it is not explained,” the court said.
“When the genuineness, authenticity and source of the tape recordings is not explained by defendants, can the reporting be called a truth and fair comment, especially in the way it has been done in the present case. No one knows about the authenticity or source of these tapes with media houses. This further raises doubt on the defence taken by the media houses of truth justification and fair comment,” the court said.
“…If some allegations are cast on a retired member of judiciary, especially constitutional courts, the publicity has to be handled with care and caution, as the damage caused to the reputation of such a person is irreversible to his reputation. Such loss of faith results in bad repute for the person and for the justice system as a whole,” it said.