The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the New York-based NGO which works for press freedom and protects the rights of journalists, on Friday asked the Indian media conglomerate Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), the parent company of The Times of India, to withdraw their defamation suit against news website Newslaundry.
According to a video uploaded by the news website, co-founder and CEO Abhinandan Sekhri had revealed that Newslaundry received two legal notices from BCCL over the last few months.
“We got a notice for doing our job, which is calling out the bullshit of legacy-owned channels who think that they are untouchable,” Sekhri said in the video.
He said that one of the notices had demanded damages worth Rs 100 crore.
Sekhri told CPJ that BCCL had filed a civil defamation suit in the Bombay High Court, seeking Rs 1 billion (US$13.7 million) in damages from Newslaundry.
In the report, CPJ mentions BCCL was “undermining its own integrity” by issuing the legal notice.
“Civil lawsuits are a legitimate avenue to seek redress in cases of alleged defamation, but they shouldn’t be used to stifle criticism, which clearly is the situation here,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, in New York. “It’s ridiculous that The Times Group, which has a huge platform from which to give its point of view, cannot withstand a little satire from Newslaundry. The right response is just to laugh it off.”
The video uploaded by Newslaundry stated that in the episode titled Explained: How to rig TRPs, Navika Kumar, group editor of politics, Times Now, and the channel’s editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar were referred to “in the most irresponsible, incorrect, derogatory and defamatory manner”.
According to CPJ, the suit alleged that Manisha Pande, an anchor of the satirical web show TV Newsance, defamed BCCL, Jain, Kumar, and Shivshankar in an episode uploaded on October 10, 2020.
The media group demanded that the episode be taken down, according to CPJ.
BCCL’s notice further accused Newslaundry of using Kumar’s photo with other competing channels’ anchors “to create an impression that our client has been involved in illegal acts of TRP manipulation and rigging”.
Sekhri told CPJ that he stood by their reporting and that the legal notices were a “crass attempt” to bully critics into silence.
“All too often, small outfits back off because of the resources required to take this on in court,” he said. “We have no intention of backing down and will respond in court if asked.”
Newslaundry has launched a fund to fight the case. Sekhri also told CPJ that he hoped the court would not impose a gag order on the outlet during litigation.