Indian media conglomerate seeks colossal damages for two satirical videos
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Mumbai high court to dismiss the absurd defamation suit that Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), a huge Indian media conglomerate better known as The Times Group, has brought against Newslaundry, a news website that provides satirical and investigative coverage of India’s media. The court is due to begin hearing the case on 22 February.
In a civil suit filed on 19 January, The Times Group is seeking the astronomical sum of 1 billion rupees (11.4 million euros) in damages for two videos posted on Newslaundry’s site that allegedly defamed Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar, respectively the group editor and the editor-in-chief of its TV news channel Times Now TV.
In one of the videos, an episode in Newslaundry’s weekly satirical show TV Newsance broadcast on 12 October, presenter Manisha Pande mocked Times Now TV’s coverage of the case of Rhea Chakraborty, a Bollywood actress who was pilloried by some mainstream media outlets after being wrongfully accused of inciting fellow actor Sushant Singh Rajput to take his own life last year.
Don’t confuse irony with defamation
In the other video, broadcast on 4 December, presenter Meghnad S. explained how several TV channels had recently tried to rig their ratings. While he was talking, the photos of many TV journalists, including Navika Kumar, were displayed.
The suit filed by BCCL’s lawyers, who did not respond when RSF tried to reach them, describes the content of the two videos as “false, baseless and highly defamatory.” As well as seeking damages, the suit calls for Newslaundry to remove the videos and issue an apology.
“We urge the Mumbai high court’s judges to dismiss this absurd BCCL complaint,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “As well as satire, the work done by Newslaundry’s journalists is based on indisputable facts, and irony should not be confused with defamation. It is healthy for the press to investigate itself in a democracy. By filing this suit, BCCL’s management is posing a dangerous threat to free speech and is clearly siding against the press freedom camp.”
Using satire to make your point
Newslaundry legal representative Nipun Katyal told RSF that the site would not comply with any of BCCL’s demands. “The allegations made by The Times Group are baseless,” he said. “As a webportal specialising in covering the media, it’s my client’s job to criticize the media and point out their failings.”
Pande, TV Newsance’s presenter, confirmed to RSF that every broadcast is preceded by thorough research and is based on the facts. “TV Newsance is media critique show that relies on humour and satire to get a point across. This would have been amply clear to The Times Group lawyers had they read our disclaimer right at the beginning of each episode.”
She added: “We simply highlighted how The Times Group reported on [Sushant Singh Rajpu’s suicide] and the ethical and journalistic questions around it. It’s not clear what The Times Group means when they say our show is ‘beyond the realm of satire’ but it’ll be entertaining to see them elaborate on this point in court.”
RSF reached a member of The Times Group defence team, lawyer Vijay Hiremath, but he refused to comment.
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.