Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Wire: New York-based journalists' group objects to criminal defamation, criticizes Gujarat court move

PM Narendra Modi with Jay and Amit Shah
By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), one of the world's most prestigious associations of mediapersons, has come down heavily on the decision of "India's judiciary to proceed with a criminal defamation complaint against The Wire and issue an injunction preventing the news website from reporting about Jay Shah, the son of the ruling BJP party's president Amit Shah, while the defamation case is being heard."
Referring to the October 12 Ahmedabad court issuing an injunction barring The Wire from writing about Jay Shah's businesses "so that the right to live with dignity of the plaintiff (Jay) may be protected," CPJ wonders how was it that "the news website learned of the injunction only after being sent a copy of the order", quoting a statement published by The Wire on October 16.
"The injunction was issued as part of a criminal defamation case that Jay Shah filed against the news website on October 11. The legal action is related to an October 8 report in The Wire about the turnover of Jay Shah's company, Temple Enterprises, since Narendra Modi became prime minister and his father became party leader", CPJ says.
Also objecting to the "Gujarat court" issuing "summons for those named in the criminal defamation complaint to appear on November 13", CPJ says, "If convicted, the journalists could be jailed for up to two years, or fined." It adds, "One of the The Wire's founding editors, Siddharth Varadarajan, who is named in the complaint, told CPJ via email that The Wire would challenge the injunction."
"A democracy like India should not use criminal defamation proceedings and censorship to resolve publishing disputes," CPJ Asia programme coordinator Steven Butler in New York has been quoted as saying. "Rather than shutting down reporting by The Wire, Indian authorities should take steps to change the country's outdated defamation laws."
The defamation complaint was filed under sections 500 [criminal defamation], 109 [abetment], 39 [voluntarily causing grievous hurt] and 120B [criminal conspiracy] and names the Foundation for Independent Journalism, the non-profit that publishes the website; The Wire's founding editors Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, and MK Venu; Rohini Singh, a reporter; Pamela Philipose, a public editor; and managing editor Monobina Gupta, according to a report in the Business Standard, CPJ notes.
It adds, "The injunction bars The Wire from publishing further stories on Shah's business for the duration of the criminal defamation trial, but it did not require the news website to remove stories already posted, according to Varadarajan."
At the same time, CPJ quotes Nirupam Nanavati, a lawyer representing Jay Shah, defending the use of the injunction as telling CPJ, "Once you write or speak [about a person], you might issue a denial but the injury caused to the person is irreversible and irreparable and can't be compensated in terms of money."
It comments, "The Wire has faced ex-parte injunctions -- an injunction in which only one party is heard -- previously. In March, CPJ documented how a Bangalore city civil court issued an ex-parte injunction ordering The Wire to take down two articles critical of Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a member of India's upper house of parliament."
"Separately", CJP adds, "In August, CPJ documented how the Karkardooma District Court in Delhi issued an injunction that restrained Juggernaut Books from publishing 'Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev', after the guru filed a complaint."

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