A Bengaluru court Saturday granted a temporary media gag order in favour of six ministers of the BJP government in Karnataka after they expressed apprehension of being defamed, days after TV channels played a video CD allegedly featuring Water Resources Minister Ramesh Jarkiholi and an unidentified young woman, leading to his resignation.
The court of the 26th additional civil and sessions judge granted the temporary injunction on media broadcast of any CD or other material that is likely to defame the six ministers after they moved court Friday, naming 68 media, social media outlets and a social activist, Rajashekhar Mulali, as respondents.
The six ministers — Shivaram Hebbar, B C Patil, S T Somashekar, K Sudhakar, K C Narayana Gowda and Byrathi Basavaraj — were part of a group of 17 Congress and JDS MLAs who quit the Congress-JDS coalition in 2019 and defected to the BJP to help it come to power under the leadership of Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa.
Jarkiholi, who resigned on March 3, was also part of the group of 17 and was considered the most influential among 12 who were made BJP ministers by Yediyurappa.
The six ministers and Jarkiholi were part of a group of 17 Congress and JDS MLAs — known as the Bombay Friends — who quit the Congress-JDS coalition in 2019 and defected to the BJP to help it come to power under Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa. They hold key positions, and this latest episode has shaken the BJP government.
The six ministers approached the court for a media gag order in the wake of the Jarkiholi scandal, saying some media houses have been projecting the existence of 19 CDs involving MLAs and ministers.
In a joint suit, the ministers said that following the broadcast of such news, voters of their constituencies are presuming that the ministers are involved in scandals and this is causing embarrassment to their families.
In his injunction order Saturday, the 26th civil and session court judge D S Vijaya Kumar said: “I am of opinion that the media should walk an extra mile to get news and its source verified through legally admissible process, whereupon it should be ready to shoulder responsibility for such news items and then publish or telecast the same, so as to advance the cause of freedom of expression as well as right of the citizens to know about public affairs.”
The court said “it is necessary to injunct telecasting or publishing of any unverified news items against the plaintiffs/applicants”.
The order against publishing and broadcasting “any defamatory news items or showing footages and pictures referring to the plaintiffs in relation to the alleged CDs and committing any act or intentional omission which thereby causes character assassination of the plaintiffs on the basis of the unverified material” has been put in place till March 31.
On March 4, the court of the 72nd additional civil and sessions judge granted a temporary gag order in favor of Jarkiholi after he approached the court against 69 media outlets, saying his reputation will be damaged irreparably if the media is not barred from continuing to broadcast recordings of his private affairs.
In the March 4 order, the court said the media outlets named in the case are “restrained by an order of an ex parte ad interim injunction from telecasting or publishing or broadcasting or distribution in any form or manner of the contents of the alleged CD or any other material negatively referring to the Plaintiff leading to a defamatory act, dignity assassination or creating sarcastic views about him”.
The court also said the injunction “will not come in the way” of the media publishing “authenticated and true news, after due verification, without making any defamatory remarks against the plaintiff”.
The six ministers approached the civil court Friday, saying they apprehend tarnishing of their image in the media on the lines of what happened to their colleague.
“Political leaders also have private lives that are separate from their public lives. What happens in their private lives cannot be used to tarnish leaders’ reputations,” said Labour Minister Shivaram Hebbar, one of the petitioners.
“There seems to be a conspiracy in the state to defame efficient ministers who are gaining popularity by their good work. In this age of modern technology, it is not an exaggeration that anything can be done to deceive our eyes,” said Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar.
“One can lose the goodwill gained in a lifetime within seconds due to some conspiracy. To stop this we have appealed to the court to issue a stay order against broadcasting defamatory content,” he said.
“No one is above the law but smear campaigns to tarnish an image is not acceptable. Those who feel they are victimised can go to court and seek justice. But there is a new trend to indulge in hit-and-run allegations,” Dr Sudhakar said.
Some of the 12 who became ministers in the BJP government after defecting from the Congress and JDS have questioned the need to seek a gag order against the media if there has been no wrongdoing.
The 17 MLAs who crossed over were known as the ‘Bombay Friends’ in the media because they were lodged in five-star facilities in Mumbai when they defected and had holed out for several days to enable the BJP to oust the then ruling coalition.
In November 2019, a police investigation into a complaint of extortion and criminal intimidation filed in Bengaluru by a sitting BJP MLA, who obtained a gag order from being identified in the media, had revealed that a gang had trapped several leaders and was blackmailing them.
The investigations carried out by the crime branch police in Bengaluru, on the basis of the complaint filed by the MLA, revealed that the gang targeted at least 12 other prominent persons.
The MLA, who complained of being trapped and secretly filmed, alleged that the gang demanded Rs 10 crore to keep recordings of his private affairs out of the public domain.
The recording of encounters were said to have been done with spy cameras installed in handbags and sunglasses of women and later transferred to a key accused for extortion. After the gang was arrested, police found memory cards and pen drives with recordings of nearly 12 VIPs.
The main suspect in the 2019 case, Raghavendra alias Rocky, remains in prison while two women, allegedly associated with the entrapments, were released on bail in 2020.
Barring KC Narayana Gowda who crossed over from JDS, the others switched to BJP from Cong. These are their portfolios:
# K C Narayana Gowda, Youth Empowerment and Sports
# Shivaram Hebbar, Labour
# Dr K Sudhakar, Health
# B C Patil, Agriculture
# S T Somashekar, Cooperative
# Byrathi Basavaraj, Urban Development
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