New Delhi, Nov 19: The International Press Institute (IPI) today criticised the award of “disproportionately high” damages in the Times Now case, saying that it places such an economic burden on media outlets that their survival is seriously threatened as a consequence.
Barbara Trionfi, Senior Press Freedom Adviser for Asia, IPI, the Vienna-based watchdog for press and editorial freedoms, said in a statement that press freedom advocates have often warned about the danger in such awards.
Times Now was awarded Rs 100 crore in damages by a Pune court for defamation on a case filed by former Supreme Court Judge P B Sawant, whose photograph was wrongly displayed in place of another judge in connection with a scam.
The Bombay High Court ordered depositing of Rs 20 crores in cash and Rs 80 crores in bank guarantee by Times Now for hearing its appeal against the Pune court order.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court had refused to interfere with the High Court order.
IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie was critical of the ruling particularly considering the global trend in democratic countries towards placing a cap on damages awarded for defamation.
The statement quotes IPI Board Member N Ravi as saying that “it is obvious that an award of damages of this magnitude will have a chilling effect on the operations of media in the country.”
“The judiciary has been protecting the freedom of expression of the media, writers and creative artists, and has been expanding their boundaries of free speech as well.
“It is ironic that a retired Supreme Court judge should have initiated such an action and that the higher judiciary should have allowed the initial judicial aberration to continue,” Ravi said.
An inadvertent slip of this nature can hardly be construed as defamatory and the award of punitive damages in a case such as this lacking in malice wholly unwarranted, he said.
In another statement, Vijay Darda, Chairman of Lokmat Media Limited and Rajya Sabha member, said the order in the Times Now case was “extraordinary”, saying there has to be some co-relation between an offence being tried and the interim punishment being imposed.
Darda said Press Council Chairman Justice Markandey Katju's recent comments about journalists have a demoralizing effect on the working of the media.