By Aditya Singh Chawla
The Patiala House court at Delhi has rejected R. K. Pachauri’s plea for an interim gag order against NDTV, Bennett Coleman and Co., and the India Today Group. The media houses had been made defendants in a defamation suit filed by him in 2016.
In 2015, an FIR had been filed against Pachauri by a woman employee of TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute, of which he was then the Chief) accusing him of sexual harassment. Following these allegations, several other women had spoken out about similar experiences while they had worked at the organization. The allegations and ongoing proceedings had received extensive coverage in the media.
Pachauri filed for defamation against multiple parties, including the media houses, one of the women who had spoken out, as well as her lawyer. He sought a gag order against the media houses, and damages of Rs. 1 Crore from the victim and her lawyer.
We have written previously about how suits such as these are in the nature of ‘SLAPP’ suits – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. These are cases where powerful individuals and corporations use litigation as a way of intimidating or silencing their critics. The defendants are usually media houses or individuals who are then forced to muster the resources to mount a legal defense. Even if they are able to secure a victory in Court, it is at the cost of a protracted and expensive process.
The court has now refused to grant an interim injunction against the media houses, noting the right of the public to be aware of the developments. It further noted that public figures can be held to a higher degree of scrutiny by the public. However, it has also held that further reportage must also carry Pachauri’s views, and indicate that the matter is still pending before the Court. The text of the order may be found here.
Aditya is an Analyst at the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi