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Bombay High Court Refuses To Gag Media In Response to Shilpa Shetty’s A Rs 25 Crore Defamation Suit

Shilpa Shetty Was A Public Figure Did Not Mean That She Has Sacrificed Her Right To Privacy: Court

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Raju Vernekar
Raju Vernekar
I am a mumbai based journalist having worked with many daily newspapers.

INDIA. Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Friday refused to grant an interim injunction against various news portals and publications accused by actress Shilpa Shetty-Kundra of indulging in defamatory reporting related to the arrest of her husband Raj Kundra in the alleged pornographic film racket case.

Shetty has filed a Rs 25 crore defamation suit. The New Indian Express, India TV, Free Press Journal, NDTV, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, among others have been made parties to the defamation suit.

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In her plea, Shilpa Shetty has objected to certain media channels carrying news reports about her breaking down when Mumbai Police officials took Raj Kundra to their residence for searches last week.

The court observed that reporting of something that the crime branch or police sources said is never defamatory and hence expressed doubt on whether a blanket restraint can be issued. At the same time, the court also observed that Shilpa Shetty is the mother of two minor children and just because she is a public figure, it does not mean that she has sacrificed her privacy.

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Justice Gautam Patel did not pass any order as some of the organizations were not represented and those who were represented informed that they had taken down the content from the digital platforms, to which the court asked them not to upload the same again.

During the hearing of the interim application in a defamation suit filed by Shilpa Shetty, senior advocates Dr. Birendra Saraf and Dr. Abhinav Chandrachud that, informed the court that while the actress was not seeking a blanket gag order on the media from reporting anything related to the case of her husband, she sought an interim injunction restraining various media platforms from reporting uncorroborated, defamatory and malicious news about her.

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Her husband, Raj Kundra was arrested by the property cell of Mumbai Police’s crime branch on July 19 in connection with an alleged pornography racket. The cell has alleged that Kundra controlled the operation of the mobile app used to upload pornographic videos for paid viewership and earned over Rs.1.17 crore between August and December last year using subscription.

Dr. Saraf said that the actor took exception to news items which implied that she was indulging in the destruction of evidence about the case in which her husband was booked as well as the case was affecting her parenting.

After some of the 29 defendants who were represented by advocates submitted that they had taken down the objectionable content and assured the court that they would not upload it again, justice Patel said in his order, “I believe some of the issues this suit raises will amount to scrutiny because it is not possible to say at this stage that all statements of all defendants are defamatory in nature.”

Referring to the objectionable content reported by the accused publications, justice Patel said, “The material here seems to be prima facie drawn from an understanding of what investigating teams have said or indicated. The report is not of Shilpa Shetty’s guilt or innocence, but of what an investigative agency suspects. I am not inclined to pass an order on this.” He added that no part of the order should be construed as a gag on the media. “I am making no order, but this is not refusal of interim or ad-interim relief.”

When Dr. Saraf pointed to the observations made by one of the publishers about Shetty’s parenting while reporting on the circumstances surrounding the case, justice Patel said, “That part is protected by her right of privacy under the wide protection recognized by the freedom of the press to be balanced with the right of privacy. Freedom of speech may have to be narrowly tailored. But it is not possible to ignore the constitutional pinning of privacy, nor to say that if a person is a public figure, that person is deemed to have sacrificed his right to privacy.” The application will be heard next on September 30.

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