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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Times Now libel case: Editors' Guild expresses concern

In 2008, a photograph of Justice P.B. Sawant, the former chairman of the Press Council of India, was shown in a 6.30 p.m. Times Now news report on a provident fund scam, instead of that of Justice P.K. Samanta, then of the Calcutta high court. A court in Pune directed Times Now to pay Rs.100 crore in damages, against which the channel appealed before the Bombay High Court.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court of India declined to intervene in the Bombay HC case against Times Now, directing the channel to deposit Rs.20 crore with the court registry along with a bank guarantee of Rs.80 crore.

The Editors' Guild of India has issued the following statement:

The Editors' Guild of India expresses its concern at the implications of today’s ruling of the Supreme Court, rejecting a Special Leave Petition seeking a stay against a High Court decree for damages worth Rs.100 crore against the Times Global Broadcasting Company Limited.

While recognising that the law of defamation is an important qualification of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, the Guild believes that the law of defamation has to be construed in such a manner that it does not constrain the normal functioning of the media.

An unintentional error because of a technical mix-up is in a different category from malicious or intentional libel. If inadvertent errors were to be met with punitive fines, it would make it difficult and indeed hazardous for journalists and media organisations to carry out their professional duties.

The Guild notes that in the present case the photograph of Justice P.B. Sawant was shown mistakenly as being involved in the Ghaziabad District Court Provident Fund Scam because of the similarity of names with another judge. There was no malice. The error was corrected within 15 seconds, and for five days the channel issued a public apology to the wronged judge.