A Telangana court has directed The Wire to take down 14 articles published about Bharat Biotech International Limited and its Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, after the company filed a Rs 100 crore defamation suit against the publication.
The Additional District Judge at Ranga Reddy District Court also restrained The Wire from publishing any further defamatory articles on Bharat Biotech and Covaxin.
The suit names Foundation for Independent Journalism, the publisher of The Wire, its Editors Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Roshanlal Bhatia, and MK Venu, and nine others who wrote articles about the company and its vaccine.
Bharat Biotech alleged that The Wire had published articles which contained false allegations against the company and its product with a “malicious” intent to undermine the reputation of the manufacturer. It further alleged that the news portal has published several articles with false accusations on the authorization approvals of the vaccine without verifying the facts.
Senior Counsel K Vivek Reddy, representing Bharat Biotech, noted that the company, which has previously developed vaccines for Tuberculosis, Zika Rotavirus, Chikungunya and Typhoid, has received national and global recognition and that it collaborated with leading Indian institutions to develop the vaccine.
Following the hearing on Wednesday, the court observed that despite the approval of the Government of India for Bharat Biotech’s vaccine, The Wire continued to publish articles about the company and its product.
The court also noted that Bharat Biotech is the only company which has been authorised to manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 15-18 and that the defamatory articles published on the website will lead to vaccine hesitancy. In view of this, the court directed the removal of the 14 articles and restrained The Wire from publishing any more similar reports on the company and its product.
Following the court’s order, Varadaranjan took to Twitter and said that the publisher was not served any notice nor given any chance to refute the allegations made by Bharat Biotech against the “14 deeply reported Covaxin stories” that were published over the course of a year. “Let me say this—BB’s (Bharat Biotech) bullying will not work,” he added.
As per The Wire, they came to know about the case and the order only from the Bar and Bench reportage.
“The Wire and its editors were not served any notice or intimated in any way about these proceedings. At no stage were we contacted by Bharat Biotech or its counsel. The Telangana court’s order, which we have learned about only through Bar and Bench, has been passed without giving The Wire an opportunity to be heard,” wrote the editors.
They further said that they would legally challenge the order and “resist any attempt to curb freedom of the press.”