The Bombay High Court observed on Friday that passing a blanket gag order on the media against reporting anything against actor Shilpa Shetty would have a “chilling effect on freedom of press” and said there was a judicial limit on what could be construed as good or bad journalism.
Justice Gautam Patel was hearing a suit filed by Shilpa Shetty, through Parinam Law Associates, against the alleged defamatory articles published against her and her family after the arrest of her husband on July 19 in a case related to the production and streaming of pornographic content on apps. Kundra is presently in judicial custody.
Pending hearing in the suit, Shetty has filed an interim application seeking restraint on the media from publishing any “incorrect, false, malicious and defamatory” content.
While refusing to issue any restraining order, justice Patel observed that the freedom of press has to be balanced with the right to privacy of an individual.
Justice Patel, however, noted that the plaintiff’s prayer seeking media to be restrained would have a “chilling effect on the freedom of press”.
“There is a judicial limit on what is good or bad journalism as this comes very close to freedom of press,” the court said.
The court also noted that the articles referred to by Shetty in her suit do not seem to be defamatory. “It cannot be like if you (media) are not going to write or say anything nice about me (Shetty) then do not say anything at all. How can this be?” asked Justice Patel.
The court also noted that most of the articles attached in the suit, except one, that claimed that Shetty cried and fought with Kundra when he was brought to their house by the police for joint interrogation, was based on what the police sources said.
“Reportage of something based on what police sources have said is not defamatory. If this had happened in the four walls of your house with no one around, then the issue is different. But this has happened in the presence of outsiders. How is this defamation?” questioned Justice Patel.
The judge observed that at the most, this shows that the plaintiff (Shetty) is human and there is nothing wrong with it. Justice Patel added: “You chose a life in the public eye, then all this will come as part of the territory. Your life is under a microscope.”
Shetty’s counsel Birendra Saraf also took objection to an article published on a website which said that Shetty had destroyed evidence in the case in which Kundra has been arrested.
Justice Patel, however, said he was not inclined to direct the website to remove the article as it was prima facie drawn from an understanding of what the police said or indicated.
The judge clearly observed: “No part of this order shall be construed as a gag on the media.”
Shetty has also sought damages of Rs 25 crore, stating that the respondents (several media publications and social media sites like Google, Facebook and YouTube) are causing irreparable loss and damage to her reputation. She has sought that social media platforms like Google, YouTube and Facebook be directed to remove all such defamatory content.
To this, Justice Patel said, “Your prayer seeking for social media platforms like Google, YouTube and Facebook to exercise control over editorial content is dangerous.”
The court has, however, directed three videos uploaded on the YouTube channels of three private persons to be deleted and not uploaded again as it was “malicious and with not even a slightest attempt to investigate into the truth of the matter”. The three videos made comments on Shetty’s moral standing and went on to question the quality of her parenting, following the arrest of her husband.
The court directed all the defendants in the suit to file their affidavits and kept the matter for further hearing on September 20.
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