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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Apex Court declines to relax Bombay high court order -Times Now TV channel- Rs 100 crore defamation suit.

Underbelly: The Golden Mile - is a 13-part Australian television mini-series loosely based on real events that stemmed from the nightclub scene of the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross.

Calumny, Slander, libel, vilification, traducement – better known as ‘defamation’ – is the communication that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual but may give an individual or a Company – a negative image.  This is a serious offence in Western World.  This would include disparaging remarks of some one published or stated.   In common law jurisdictions, slander refers to a malicious, false and defamatory spoken statement or report, while libel refers to any other form of communication such as written words or images.  Most jurisdictions allow legal actions, civil and/or criminal, to deter various kinds of defamation and retaliate against groundless criticism.  A person who harms another's reputation may be referred to as a famacide, defamer, or slanderer.

Understand that in US, the person must first prove that the statement was false and then that the statement caused harm.  The person proving libel would also be required to prove that the statement was made without adequate truthfulness.  In some Nations, there are even criminal penalties for defamation on certain grounds.  

Sometimes newspapers, magazines, newschannels go overboard; sometimes – a small slip-up could make them repent for life !

The popular “Times Now” is on a sticky wicket for its wrong airing of Justice PB Sawant’s photo while airing a story on the PF Scam in 2008.  Times Global company runs 24-hour English News channel Times Now, and is a sister concern of Bennett, Coleman & Co, which publishes The Times of India.    Recently, the  Bombay High Court asked Times Global Broadcasting Company, which runs English news channel Times Now, to deposit Rs 20 crore in the court over a defamation suit filed against it by a former Supreme Court judge’.  Earlier a Pune district court had ordered the company to pay Justice (retd) PB Sawant Rs 100 crore in damages, and Times Global had appealed to the high court against it.   Reportedly, Justice Sawant had sued the channel for displaying his photo wrongly for about 15 seconds during a 10 September 2008 news report on a provident fund scam allegedly involving Calcutta High Court judge Justice PK Samanta. The report, that mistakenly showed Sawant’s photo in place of Samanta, also said several judges of the higher judiciary were involved in the scam,”

Even in India, defamation cases are not totally rare.   Way back in April 1987,  when  M.G. Ramachandran was Chief Minister, Assembly Speaker P.H. Pandian sentenced S. Balasubramanian, Editor of Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan to three months' rigorous imprisonment for breach of privilege for publishing a cartoon deriding Ministers and MLAs.  The full Bench of the Madras High Court ruled in 1994 that there had been "a gross violation of law as also the principles of natural justice" and of Balasubramanian's fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The Full Bench ordered a compensation of Rs.1,000 to him.

There have been many such defamation cases, many by Politicians and Govts against newsmedia.  The Times Now –  Justic Sawant spat is one of many high-profile defamation suits.  The media certainly needs to exercise care and caution before airing news for  publicity.

The Supreme Court yesterday  declined to relax the  Bombay high court order asking Times Now TV channel to deposit Rs 100 crore - Rs 20 crore in cash and the rest as bank guarantee - before taking up its appeal against a trial court verdict in a defamation case.  It is reported that appearing for the TV channel, senior advocate Harish Salve said the channel had apologized for the mistake and had run an apology for five continuous days and requested the apex court to relax the stiff condition of depositing Rs 100 crore as a pre-condition for appeal.  A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya declined to grant relief to petitioner Times Global Broadcasting Company Ltd, which owns the TV channel, saying there was no error in the high court's interim order. "We find no reason to interfere with high court's order directing the petitioner to deposit Rs 20 crore and furnish bank guarantee for the rest," the bench said.   However, the bench clarified that the HC would decide the appeal on its merit without being influenced by the apex court's decision to dismiss the appeal against the pre-condition of depositing the amount.

Times Now Channel was reported as stating that  "We are extremely apologetic to Justice Sawant for the mistake and any personal damage done to his reputation because of the inadvertent error of running his picture instead of another judge. The picture ran for only about 15 seconds, and was a genuine oversight in the course of a broadcast. We deeply regret the mistake and assure Justice Sawant that it was not part of any intentional malice in reporting.

Elsewhere, a  former Sydney police officer has won a defamation case against the makers of Underbelly for falsely suggesting she had a relationship with John Ibrahim. The verdict vindicated the decision of Ms Wendy Hatfield to sue Screentime, TCN Channel Nine and Nine Network Australia over Underbelly.  The appellant had said that  there was no truth to the claim and her perceived association with Mr Ibrahim had damaged her reputation and character.  She had  attempted to stop the show going to air but her appeals failed.  Details of the settlement  have not been made public and are reported to be confidential.

Underbelly: The Golden Mile - is a 13-part Australian television mini-series loosely based on real events that stemmed from the nightclub scene of the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross. The timeline of the series is the years between 1988 and 1999. it primarily depicts the running of Kings Cross and the corruption of police leading up to the 1995 Wood Royal Commission.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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