Bloomberg Television Production Services India Private Limited vs Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited 2024 INSC 255 – Defamation Suits Against Journalistic Pieces

Defamation Suits Against Journalistic Pieces – Interim Injunctions – The three-fold test of establishing (i) a prima facie case, (ii) balance of convenience and (iii) irreparable loss or harm, for the grant of interim relief is equally applicable to the grant of interim injunctions in defamation suits. However, this test must not be applied mechanically, to the detriment of the other party and in the case of injunctions against journalistic pieces, often to the detriment of the public. – Suits concerning defamation by media platforms and/or journalists, an additional consideration of balancing the fundamental right to free speech with the right to reputation and privacy must be borne in mind. The constitutional mandate of protecting journalistic expression cannot be understated, and courts must tread cautiously while granting pre-trial interim injunctions. The standard to be followed – ‘Bonnard standard’ – In essence, the grant of a pre-trial injunction against the publication of an article may have severe ramifications on the right to freedom of speech of the author and the public’s right to know. An injunction, particularly ex-parte, should not be granted without establishing that the content sought to be restricted is ‘malicious’ or ‘palpably false’. Granting interim injunctions, before the trial commences, in a cavalier manner results in the stifling of public debate. In other words, courts should not grant ex-parte injunctions except in exceptional cases where the defence advanced by the respondent would undoubtedly fail at trial. In all other cases, injunctions against the publication of material should be granted only after a fullfledged trial is conducted or in exceptional cases, after the respondent is given a chance to make their submissions. (Para 9)

SLAPP Suits – ‘Strategic Litigation against Public Participation’ and is an umbrella term used to refer to litigation predominantly initiated by entities that wield immense economic power against members of the media or civil society, to prevent the public from knowing about or participating in important affairs in the public interest. We must be cognizant of the realities of prolonged trials. The grant of an interim injunction, before the trial commences, often acts as a ‘death sentence’ to the material sought to be published, well before the allegations have been proven. While granting ad-interim injunctions in defamation suits, the potential of using prolonged litigation to prevent ree speech and public participation must also be kept in mind by courts. (Para 10)

Interim Relief – While granting interim relief, the court must provide detailed reasons and analyze how the three-fold test is satisfied. A cursory reproduction of the submissions and precedents before the court is not sufficient. The court must explain how the test is satisfied and how the precedents cited apply to the facts of the case – The factors which should weigh with the court in the grant of ex parte injunction are— (a) whether irreparable or serious mischief will ensue to the plaintiff; (b) whether the refusal of ex parte injunction would involve greater injustice than the grant of it would involve; (c) the court will also consider the time at which the plaintiff first had notice of the act complained so that the making of improper order against a party in his absence is prevented; (d) the court will consider whether the plaintiff had acquiesced for sometime and in such circumstances it will not grant ex parte injunction; (e) the court would expect a party applying for ex parte injunction to show utmost good faith in making the application. (f) even if granted, the ex parte injunction would be for a limited period of time. (g) General principles like prima facie case, balance of convenience and irreparable loss would also be considered by the court – Referred to Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund v. Kartick Das (1994) 4 SCC 225 (Para 6) – – Appellate courts must interfere with the grant of interim relief if the discretion has been exercised “arbitrarily, capriciously, perversely, or where the court has ignored settled principles of law regulating the grant or refusal of interlocutory injunctions.” The grant of an ex parte interim injunction by way of an unreasoned order, definitely falls within the above formulation, necessitating interference by the High Court. (Para 12)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *