Court arms journalists to be fearless and fair

By Vivek Vashi and Krishnendu Sayta, Bharucha & Partners

The National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) brought a defamation action in Bombay High Court against Moneywise Media, Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu regarding two articles published on 19 June and 8 July 2015 on their online news portal Dalal and Basu are the editors of Moneylife and their articles accused the NSE of granting illicit trading advantages to a select few users of high-end technology.

Vivek Vashi
Vivek Vashi

The NSE alleged that the article was per se defamatory, as the genesis of the allegation was an anonymous eight-page letter which itself recklessly defamed the NSE. Basu argued that a public body cannot recover damages in a defamation action unless it proves that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity. Dalal submitted that the freedom of speech is arguably the most volatile freedom and its restrictions such as defamation law should be construed narrowly. She argued that after receipt of the anonymous letter she conducted her own investigations and also solicited the NSE’s views on three occasions but on each occasion the NSE was unresponsive. Accordingly, the pair submitted that there was no lapse in ethical or journalistic standards by either of them.

The court relied on the Supreme Court’s judgment in R Rajagopal v State of Tamil Nadu (1994), and held that a demonstration that one acted after a reasonable verification of the facts was sufficient to dislodge a claim for injunction and a charge of malice. The court noted that the authors’ independent investigations fulfilled the test laid down by Bombay High Court in Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Ltd v Chitroopa Palit & Anr (2003), which required defendants to take precautions in ascertaining the truth, before publication.

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Vivek Vashi is the mainstay of the litigation team at Bharucha & Partners, where Krishnendu Sayta is an associate.


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