One of the lawyers pointed out that Arnab in one of his debates said that Shah Rukh Khan was a "jihadi" and "supports Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan."

A collage of Times Nows Rahul Shivshankar Republic TVs Arnab Goswami Times Nows Navika Kumar and Republic TVs Pradeep Bhandari
news Court Monday, November 09, 2020 - 13:25

The Delhi High Court on Monday heard Bollywood’s plea against television news channels Republic and Times Now for ‘maligning’ the film industry’s reputation during the coverage of the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput and issued notices to the two news channels, seeking their response. The Delhi High Court bench headed by Justice Rajiv Shakdher also asked the media houses AGR Outlier Media Pvt Ltd and Bennett Coleman and Company Ltd to ensure that no defamatory content is uploaded on social media platforms or displayed on their channels.

The Delhi High Court was hearing the lawsuit filed by four Bollywood industry associations and 34 leading producers, against Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami and Pradeep Bhandari, and Times Now’s Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar, over their coverage of the drugs probe being investigated by the Narcotics Control Bureau in connection with the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. The suit had sought to restrain them from interfering with the right to privacy of persons associated with the industry.

Appearing for Bollywood, senior advocate Rajiv Nayar told the court that the two news channels were drawing a comparison between the film industry and the drug mafia. “Now they proceed as if we have links with Pakistan and ISI. Your Lordship will see how the reports start with reports on Sushant Singh and move on to links with drug peddlers and Pakistan,” the advocate told the court, as per a report by Bar and Bench.

He added that Republic referred to celebrities and members of the film industry as ‘druggies’ and referred to Arnab Goswami’s debates where he asked Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar to “renounce links with pro-Pak, anti-India Lobby”. He added that Arnab said that Shah Rukh Khan was a "jihadi" and "supports Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan."

"SRK must issue a public statement denouncing these links with terror supporters," Arnab had said.

Nayar added that after Republic TV, Times Now also began to target Bollywood, but went one step further by accessing private WhatsApp chats, which he said is an infringement of the celebrities’ right to privacy.

“This is more dangerous because this is actually the course of the investigation,” Nayar told the HC. The counsel for Bollywood also referred to the bail plea of Vibhor Anand, arrested for spreading conspiracy theories on Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, where he had said that he was ‘influenced by Republic TV’s coverage.’

“This is to show how public perception is influencing all kinds of people,” the advocate said. 

Senior advocate Akhil Sibal also appeared for the petitioners and said that “a certain section of the news media seems to have abandoned journalistic principles."

The Delhi High Court then remarked that ‘DD was much better’ and that ‘fair reportage is expected.’ 

“Courts hesitate (in restraining media reports) because it is a constitutional right. But you are right, we expect fair reportage...We used to find Doordarshan very stale, but we had some lovely broadcasters then... I was actually thinking black and white and DD was much better,” Justice Shakdher said. 

The court also asked what mechanism should be put in place to change the way reporting is taking place these days.

“People are very scared about the fourth estate. Even when the issue of privacy of public figures gets diluted, you can't drag their personal lives in the public domain...in the case of Princess Diana, she died because she was racing away from the media. You can't just go on like this. The Courts are the last ones to want to regulate," the court also remarked.

“We're not saying that you can't cover such news, you just have to do responsible journalism,” the court added. “Participants on TV debates get so excited that they use cuss words during live telecast!”

The Delhi High Court then issued a notice to the two channels to file a written response within two weeks. Meanwhile, the court also asked the channels to follow Programme Code and the Cable TV Rules and ensure that no defamatory content is displayed on their channels or uploaded on social media. The court will continue hearing the case on December 14. 

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