The Madras High Court has restrained a Tamil weekly magazine from publishing anything about the private life of Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi without her prior consent.
Justice R Subramanian directed the magazine to also seek her comments if they wish to publish anything about her life which they feel is in public interest and publish her comments also with same prominence as the article itself.
The court passed the directions on the petition filed by Kanimozhi through advocate P Wilson seeking direction to the magazine restraining it from printing, publishing, circulating defamatory article, sketch, caricature or pictorial representation of Kanimozhi in the magazine Kumudam Reporter or in any manner causing damage to her reputation without seeking her prior clarification.
The court directed the magazine that:
The court made it clear that this restriction is not extended to her functions as a Member of Parliament or the leader of a political party.
The petition impleaded P Varadarajan, director and publisher of Kumudam Group magazines, S Kosal Ram, group editor of Kumudam Reporter and Kumudam Publications Pvt Ltd, K Gubendran, joint editor and others.
She alleged that the respondents were habitually engaging in publishing highly defamatory and baseless news articles against her and other leaders belonging to the DMK.
She also referred to a 2014 article wherein they claimed that she is planting news in various media against her own brother MK Stalin, working president of the DMK, and they allegedly have been publishing a defamatory article in almost every issue of the magazine.
Despite a legal notice, the respondents, she said, would not stop their tirade against her and her family and their actions border on immorality, impropriety and lack of decency.
The court had granted an interim injunction on January 5, 2014, which was contested by the respondents as a denial of their right to freedom of speech and expression.
They contended that the people are entitled to know of the activities of the politicians and it is in public interest that people should be kept informed about the activities of persons like the applicant.
It was also claimed that the attempt made by the applicant to silence the press is an attempt to brush under the carpet the disputes within the family and also the factionalism and groupism in the political party.
Advocate P Wilson claimed that almost every issue has some article or cartoon or some kind of publication in which a veiled or direct reference is made to Kanimozhi or her family and it is only because of the fact that when M Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister of the State, the managing director of the publication was arrested on a complaint made by one Jawahar Palaniappan, who also claimed to have stakes in the business of Kumudam publication.
He said it was on the instance of M Karunanidhi that a senior journalist was required to mediate between the parties and the managing editor is nursing a grudge since then.
Relying on the recent privacy judgment, Wilson said actions, which are likely to infringe the privacy of an individual, should be extended to non-state actors and those principles could be applied in the zone of Tort law also.
Satish Parasaran, senior counsel appearing for the respondent, contended that it is a settled legal position that no law should impose prior restraint or gag order on the media restraining it from publishing future articles.
Relying heavily on the Supreme Court’s privacy judgment, the court said the Supreme Court had while recognizing the right of privacy as a fundamental right, called for a new order which would offer a preeminent position to the right of privacy.
The principles laid down in the privacy judgment can be applied to the instant case as the apex court was also concerned with the Right to Free Speech while discussing the scope of Right to Privacy.
“I am alive to the fact that the applicant as well as many of her immediate family members are prominent public figures and have been holding high public offices in the state for quite some time now. Will that alone provide license to others, particularly the press and media, to write something defamatory (either true or false) about them on the ground that such information is in Public Interest?
“As has been pointed out by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in the privacy judgment all matters in which the public interest is interested may not be in Public Interest,” said Justice Subramanian.
He noted that most of the publications made and produced in the form of a typeset contained some sort of incineration on Kanimozhi or her immediate family members.
To a specific query from the court on the relevancy of ownership of an estate by the former husband of the applicant in Kurangani forest where fire recently killed 23 people as made out in one of the articles published in the magazine, the senior counsel gave a “startling response” upon instruction that the respondents have to sell their magazines.
“This in my considered opinion exposes the mind of the respondents to write anything and everything which is even remotely connected to the applicant in order to enhance their commercial interest. I am unable to accept this as a responsible journalistic approach. An unfortunate fire accident which took place in the forest is sought to be related to somebody who was connected with the applicant some 30 years back only with a view to enhance the sale of the magazine. It is this wild imagination that is called irresponsible journalism,” said the court.
The court also rejected the argument that it cannot be a prior restraint on gag order upon media as it relied on the privacy judgment and said media cannot in the guise of public interest publish anything and everything which may be interesting.