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Case Reviews

Naveen Jindal vs. Zee Media Corporation Ltd. And Ors. 219 (2015) DLT 605

The case relates to the powers of the Court to order pre-publication and pre- broadcasting Injunctions in case Defamation charges have made against the Media House. 

Relevant Facts 

The Appellant in the matter is an industrialist and Chairman of M/s. Jindal Steel & Power Limited and the Defendant is a media house company.  

  • The present application is filed seeking an interim injunction to restrain the defendants, etc. from writing, telecasting or airing any material, article, news etc. directly or indirectly pertaining to the purported allegations made against the appellants. The allegation pertains to an alleged incident of the year 2001 and 2010 by a lady who has been described in the plaint as Mrs. ABC. Other connected reliefs were also sought.
  • It is alleged that in September of 2012, an enormous demand by way of extortion was made by the Editors and Chairman of Defendant No. 1. This extortion call, it is said, was made pursuant to a vilification campaign against the plaintiff and his company in relation to a purported coverage of coal-gate scam in which the plaintiffs company was sought to be falsely implicated. Various Litigations were initiated by both the parties.
  • The present scenario has fallen out of the WP No. 235/2014 at the Chhattisgarh High Court which was filed by Mrs. ABC on the acts of Mr. D.K. Bhargava by coming to her home and removing her clothes and robbing her chasity. D.K. Bhargava with others also took thumb expression on the documents forcibly.
  • An order was made on 06.01.2015 by the HC and on this order the defendants in the present case made publications/news programs in respect of the Appellants that was alleged to be misleading and fake and was called out as a violation of Article 19 and Article 21 of Constitution.
  • Argument and reliance on different cases was made by both Appellants and defendants on the issues framed by the court.

Key Issues

  1. Whether the Court has the powers to grant a pre-publication or pre-broadcasting injunction against the defendants.
  2. Under what facts and circumstances, should the court exercise its jurisdiction to grant an injunction regarding publication of news item or broadcasting of programmes?

Arguments made by the Plaintiff

Since the defendants have aired more than 20 news programmes, it is not just causing defamation to the Plaintiff but also interfering with the administration of justice. It is also urged that the actions of defendants are motivated by malafides and an order of temporary injunction should be passed against the defendants. Reliance was also placed on Article 21 and the rights of plaintiff were also trampled upon and also urged that irresponsible reporting was done by the defendants. 

The plaintiff’s plea of temporary injunction was also supported by a variety of case laws in the issue of pre-publication and pre- broadcasting injunction. 

Arguments made by the Defendants

It is been contented by the defendants that the suit is not maintainable as it directly corresponds to the suit of Chhattisgarh HC and it lacks a necessary party that should also be made as a party i.e Mrs. ABC. It is also put at reliance that the suit is barred as a similar suit for injunction was made in the year 2014 before the same court and the directions in the same were followed meticulously by the defendants. It was further urged that at best the reports made by the defendant are a case of fair comment and justification. It is further urged that this is a complete defence to a suit for defamation and no stay can be granted. It is also stated that the plaintiff is a public figure having been a Member of Parliament. Public is interested in the activities of a figure like the plaintiff and there can be no restrictions imposed on a right to comment upon the conduct of the plaintiff.

Analysis

The court in the present case, did not restrict its scope and granted the relief to the Plaintiff of Temporary Injunction. Court placed reliance on various decision supplied by the Plaintiff and the defendants and by which it was made clear that the courts have power to pass pre-publication or pre-broadcasting injunctions if the court is satisfied that interest of justice so requires. The court relied on the case of Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd. vs. Proprietors of Indian Express Newspapers, Bombay Pvt. Ltd. and Ors. (1) in which, “The Supreme Court ordered restraint on publication. Needless to add that after the time for subscription to the debentures had closed and the imminent danger to the subscription subsided, the Supreme Court held that continuance of the injunction is no longer necessary. The Supreme Court applied the test of real and imminent danger in order to infer as to whether the proposed publication would lead to an interference in the course of justice for the purpose of grant or non-grant of interim injunction of prior restraint against publication.”

The court also analysed the issue of the facts and circumstances under which it should issue the grant of an injunction also that the court holds the power to restrain publication in media if it arrives at a finding that the publication may result in interference with the administration of justice or against the principle of fair trial or open justice. Reliance was also placed on the case of Swatanter Kumar vs. The Indian Express Ltd. & Ors. (2) Wherein certain important deductions were made in law that were important in passing of a order in the case. They were as, “It is clear that it is the question of degree of prejudice and its nexus with fetching the fair justice or open justice which is a potent factor which is required to be examined and tested by the Courts at the time of passing of the injunction restraining or postponing the publication. The line between fairness and unfairness is sometimes blurred but if the same is likely to prejudice the accused and project him as culprit which may cause irreversible damage to a person, the Court can step in and assume jurisdiction for future prevention of such damage so that the administration of the justice is not impaired.” 

As the present matter was at the stage of preliminary enquiry by the police. The question was whether it will be appropriate for the Court to grant stay on publication at this preliminary stage. Do the powers of the court encompass within its sweep, the power to pass an injunction or prior restraint before or after a FIR is registered and before the court commences trial. Reliance was placed on the case of Sidhartha Vashisht vs. State (NCT of Delhi) (3), and the court appreciated the ruling i.e. “Presumption of innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending. In that event, it will be opposed to the very basic rule of law and would impinge upon the protection granted to an accused under Article 21 of the Constitution. In the present case, various articles in the print media had appeared even during the pendency of the matter before the High Court which again gave rise to unnecessary controversies and apparently, had an effect of interfering with the administration of criminal justice. We would certainly caution all modes of media to extend their cooperation to ensure fair investigation, trial, defence of accused and non interference in the administration of justice in matters sub-judice.”

The judgements supplied by the defendants before the court were not appreciated by the court and it was held by the court that the allegations made by the reporters of Defendant No. 1 against Plaintiff No. 1 were not per se defamatory. It was further held by the court that a pure blanket pre-telecast restraint order cannot be passed. The balance of convenience has also been a feature that has been focused by this court. The Court accepts the test of imminent and present danger on the basis of balance of convenience but on the other hand states that no formula or test has been laid down to determine how the danger should be judged in case of prevention by injunction of broadcasting in a pending trail. 

Any publication which gives excessive adverse publicity to an accused or which is likely to hamper fair trial and constitutes an interference with the course of justice could be a ground for grant of injunction. The court has ample inherent power to restrain publication in media in the event it arrives at a finding that the said publication may result in interference with the administration of justice or would be against the principle of fair trial or open justice.

Conclusion

In the present case, the court held that the balance of convenience is in favour of the plaintiff and publication or broadcasting of anything would cause Serious prejudice to the plaintiff if injunction is not granted. Accordingly, the Hon’ble court restrained the Defendants 1 and 2, by an order of injunction from publishing any article or right-ups or telecasting programmes on the allegations against the Plaintiff as made by Mrs. ABC either in the complaint or before the police, till the time the police completes its enquiry and, if necessary, investigation and files an appropriate report/document before the court. The order of injunction which is passed is of a temporary nature and is applicable only till the police completes its preliminary enquiry or any other investigation if required that may be done at a later stage. However, the defendants are free to report to the court the final conclusion of the police in the course of preliminary enquiry covered under the ambit of fair reporting on the basis of true, correct and verified information. 

(1) AIR 1989 SC 190
(2) 2014 (207) DLT 221
(3) AIR 2010 SC 2352 India

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