The Delhi High Court on Wednesday lifted the restrictions imposed on media on reporting the charges of sexual harassment made against investor and founder of Pinstorm, Mahesh Murthy. In April 2017, after Murthy filed a defamation suit, the court had restrained the media from publishing or commenting upon or printing any interview or material that may contain or refer to the allegations against Murthy. However, on July 6, a bench of Justice Jayant Nath vacated the order and lifted the restrictions on the media.
The court noted that while the reputation of a person cannot be allowed to be sullied for the other‘s right of free speech, the current injunction takes away the media’s right to exercise their right of freedom of speech.
“A balance has to be struck between the two rights, namely, freedom of speech and expression as stated in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and the reputation of an individual which is an inherent component of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Both rights should co-exist, but restrictions should be to the extent absolutely necessary,” the court said.
Murthy had alleged in his plea that the media reports published about him were “clearly defamatory, intended to “lower his reputation” and “adversely impact” his fundamental right of living with dignity.
However, the court noted that Murthy had “failed to make out a prima facie case,” and there “appears to be no reason to conclude that the said defendants have acted in a mala fide manner.”
The court also said that an injunction order should only be passed if reasonable alternate methods or measures would not prevent the said risk.
“There appears to be no reason to conclude that the said defendants have acted in a mala fide manner...In my opinion, it would not be reasonable in the facts and circumstances to fetter the narration of alleged facts and comments of the defendants,” the court said.
“The said defendants have a right to exercise their right of freedom of speech. If these incidents and claims of the said defendants are in trial proved to be false, the plaintiff would have a right to claim damages,” the judge added, disposing of the applications.
In 2017, FactorDaily had published a woman’s account where she had opened up about the alleged sexual harassment she had faced from Mahesh Murthy. She had told the website that Mahesh Murthy behaved inappropriately with her at a coffee shop in 2003 and 2004 and that there were other instances where he had sent her inappropriate messages on Facebook and WhatsApp. Later, few more women had spoken up against him. A case had also been registered against him under section 354 (D), 509 of IPC and under section 67 of IT Act at Khar Police Station.
Murthy had then moved the Delhi High Court, which had restricted the media from reporting on the developments in the case till the plea is decided upon.