Need to Balance Right to Privacy v/s Free Speech: Bombay HC to Shilpa Shetty

Actor Shilpa Shetty has filed a defamation suit against 29 entities in the aftermath of her husband Raj Kundra's arrest.

The Bombay High Court on Friday granted actor Shilpa Shetty limited relief in her plea seeking to restrain the media from publishing defamatory information against her in connection with husband Raj Kundra's arrest in the porn film racket case.

The high court observed that seeking control over editorial content in the garb of a defamatory suit can have a very chilling effect on the freedom of the press. The high court however granted limited relief by ordering three digital news websites to take down videos that it found prima facie defamatory. "There is a line between the freedom of press and the right to privacy that will have to be balanced," Justice GS Patel had observed.

The judge further cautioned that this order was not to be construed as a gag on the media.

Shetty had filed a Rs 25 crore defamation suit against 29 channels/social media websites, of which, the high court gave an interim ruling on three.

The judge also specifically directed all media houses from airing material that involved with the publication of Shetty as a parent to minor children.

"It is possible that 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," Justice Patel observed.

After hearing detailed arguments, the judge was disinclined to pass sweeping orders in this case and gave limited relief. "I believe that some of the issues this Suit raises will require a closer scrutiny because it is not possible to say at this stage that all the statements by all the defendants are of the same defamatory stature," the judge said.

Also Read: Let Jharkhand High Court Handle Judge Hit-And-Run Case: Supreme Court

News Reports based on police sources cannot be termed defamatory: Bombay HC tells Shilpa Shetty

At the offset, Justice Patel observed that news reports based on information from police sources cannot be termed defamatory. "You are seeking compensation from everyone and John Doe. How is that going to work?" he asked senior advocate Birendra Saraf, who was representing Shetty.

"How is the NDTV coverage defamatory?" Justice Patel asked. "Reporting something that the Crime Branch said, or a police source said is never defamatory", Justice Patel observed.

"You are saying if you cannot say anything nice about Shilpa Shetty, do not say anything at all...?" the judge added. "What you are asking me to do can have a very chilling effect on the freedom of the press," he said. "You give me individual examples of defendants saying malicious things and I will look into it," the judge told Saraf.

After a detailed hearing, the high court found that videos uploaded by Capital TV, Film Window, and Shudh Manoranjan were prima facie defamatory. While directing the takedown of the video from Capital TV, the judge warned Heena Kumawat (Film Window)—she alleged she was Shetty's friend, and Shivkant Gautam (Shudh Manoranjan) from re-uploading the videos which had been taken down before the hearing had begun.

The court observed that Capital TV had gone ahead to make a statement that portrayed Shetty as being duplicitous at a personal level. "This, in my view, is transgressing any permissible limit as Ms Shetty seems to have been found guilty by whom, no one knows and of what, no one knows and for what reason, no one knows," Justice Patel observed.

"Transcript of this video shows that what is included in the course of the video is a statement on Shetty's moral standing. He went on to the quality of her parenting to her minor child. Whether this malicious or made knowingly to be false is a matter of consideration. But I am told that the defendant has taken down the video this morning. Taken down it shall remain," Justice Patel said referring to the video on Shudh Manoranjan.

Referring to news reports pertaining to an altercation between Shetty and her husband Raj Kundra in her house, the judge pointed out that the incident took place in the presence of other people as well. This could clash with the Supreme Court's Puttaswamy verdict on the right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech and expression.

The court issued notice in Shetty's plea and the matter will now be heard on September 20.

Also Read: SC Staffer Who Accused Ex-CJI Gogoi Of Sexual Harassment A Potential Pegasus Target

Updated On: 2021-07-30T18:37:11+05:30
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