Recently, OpIndia.com got a legal notice from abusive media troll Swati Chaturvedi. Reproduced below is our response to the legal notice in full. At the outset, we would like to reiterate that such intimidatory tactics won’t work with OpIndia. We reject the charges made by Swati Chaturvedi and will fight the case in court if push comes to shove.
We are in receipt of the ‘defamation notice’ served on M/s Aadhyaasi Media & Content Services Private Limited, OpIndia.com, Editor Nupur Jhunjhunwala Sharma and others on behalf of your client Ms Swati Chaturvedi.
In the legal notice, you mention that your client is a ‘journalist of high repute, standing and eminence’. In support of this claim, you have mentioned names of various publications where Swati Chaturvedi has worked in the last 20 years. You have also highlighted the fact that she has not faced any charges throughout her career as an ‘investigative journalist. You also cite the instance of her winning an award in 2018.
While we are not contesting that her career could be over two decades long – which is quite an achievement for her – but we want to humbly submit that mere instance of winning an award does not make someone of high repute, standing, and eminence. We rely on the thinking of Ms Chaturvedi herself to make this submission. We want to bring to your notice that Ms Chaturvedi has on many occasions, especially on social media, mocked awards like Philip Kotler award to Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Padma Bhushan award to renowned actor Anupam Kher, National Film Award to renowned actress Raveena Tandon, and even awards to fellow journalists, thus signalling that just winning an award is no proof of repute, standing and eminence.
Furthermore, we are assuming that by mentioning that “she has not faced any charges”, you mean that there are no legal cases pending against Ms Chaturvedi in any court of law. However, this is not true. She has been slapped with a defamation case for accusing a man of “being arrested for sexual harassment” when he never was.
If we leave aside legal cases, Ms Chaturvedi actually faces many charges – in general parlance and not in legal terms – of using foul language, of bad journalism, and of bad practices – some of which are mentioned hereafter in the course of replying to your legal notice.
In your notice, you have alluded to a specific article called “Swati Chaturvedi may be delusional: Sources”. You have accused OpIndia.com, saying that we “falsely stated that Swati Chaturvedi works with the Leftist propaganda website, The Wire, with an intention to defame our client”.
Since Swati Chaturvedi has on several occasions written for The Wire, we do not think the assertion that she works with The Wire is a defamatory statement. In fact, your notice itself puts the name of The Wire among the list of publications she has “worked with”.
However, if Swati Chaturvedi thinks that being associated with The Wire defames her irreparably, we sympathise and apologise for the same.
You have further stated in your legal notice that our article, alleging that she gets accused of plagiarism or gets called out for blatant lies and fabrication is incorrect, and that we had no basis to put that information, and that our intent was to defame your client in the eyes of her peers. You had also mentioned that according to us, your client runs an extortion racket and that is untrue as well.
We would like to contest each of your points separately.
Stanley Pignal a journalist with The Economist, had accused Swati Chaturvedi of plagiarising excerpts of his tweets. Pignal put out a tweet to provide proof for his accusations. You can read the details here. Interestingly, Swati had allegedly plagiarised content in an article that spoke of journalistic integrity. We have merely reported the charges levelled by Stanley Pignal and we did not sit in any judgment. Further, this proves that there was a basis when we wrote that Swati Chaturvedi had been accused of plagiarism.
2) Blatant lies and fabrication
Your client published a news report about actor Leonardo Di Caprio being invited to an RSS event, which had no real basis. Expectedly, it turned out to be false. She falsely claimed an image of a girl beaten up by a jilted man as being an image capturing violence in Benaras Hindu University. She has fabricated statements of a national leader on national television.
She has spread lies about a simple speech by Amit Shah, the BJP Party President. She has given credence to fake news, from a dubious website. She earlier spread false claims that Kanhaiyya Kumar attacker was a BJP office-bearer.
Therefore, it indeed is true that she gets accused of blatant lies and fabrication often, however, we are willing to concede that most of the charges against her are not of legal nature because the affected parties never deemed the case or her important enough to send her legal notices.
3) Extortion Racket
The extortion charge was made by a website named PGurus, not by OpIndia. The PGurus article was published in April 2018 and our original report covering this charge was published around the same time. This is not a charge levelled by OpIndia, and we want to reiterate that we have just reported charges made by another portal.
You can read our report here, that cites PGurus. The original PGurus report can be read here (this hasn’t been retracted yet). In fact, several other people including Director Vivek Agnihotri had tweeted the PGurus article and pointed out that Swati Chaturvedi’s name appeared in the list. However, no legal action was taken against any of the parties involved. We will update our article when the original source, namely PGurus, updates theirs.
4) Defame Swati in the eyes of her peers
Some of Swati Chaturvedi’s peers have claimed to us in private that she was fired from Hindustan Times for faking an interview of former Defence Minister George Fernandes. If our intention was to damage her reputation among her peers, we’d have always included this claim while mentioning her in our reports, crediting this claim to “sources” as your client often does in her reportage.
However, we have not done that, because we are not on any mission to damage her reputation. Further, this also suggests that her reputation among her peers was not so great, to begin with, and OpIndia can’t be deemed responsible for any perceived loss of that by your client.
Your notice further refers to one of our articles “The Wire and its ‘star journalist’ peddles another absurd lie about RSS and it’s not the first time” and claims that it was published with definite intentions to defame our client.
We would like to assert, unequivocally that OpIndia.com stands by this article, and the intention was to critique the article and not defame the author.
In the aforesaid article, your client had written:
“The RSS has been told by Modi and Shah that when the BJP comes back, the constitution will be tweaked to reflect India’s new majoritarian ethos and the secularism which they all hate will be excised.”
Your client provides no proof to back her allegations other than rhetoric and of course, her famed “sources”. Our article is actually far less defamatory if at all one can argue it to be, than the original article by your client, which accuses a very prominent social organisation of working on some grand conspiracy. Our claim that it was lie can be gauged from the fact that one of the first decisions of the new Modi government was about minority welfare, in complete contrast with any majoritarian ethos.
When our article said that “It is not the first time”, that aspect is also true and we stand by it. In 2018, your client had written that with RSS’ second in command Suresh Joshi’s term coming to end in March, he was likely to be replaced by Dattatreya Hosabale who is supposed to be close to PM Modi.
In the resultant analysis, your client claimed that the implications of this change would be “huge” for RSS and the BJP. One such claim made was that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Suresh Joshi share the view that RSS cannot play second fiddle to the BJP, but if Hosabale became the second in command then the balance of power will skew towards PM Modi. The author even alleged that Hosabale has risen meteorically through the ranks after Modi became PM.
As we know, in 2018, Suresh Joshi was re-elected as RSS’ General Secretary or “Sarkaryavah” by the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, which is the organisation’s highest decision-making body.
In your notice, you mention that even in this article of ours, we have reiterated the charges of plagiarism. We reiterate that the charges of plagiarism were levied by another journalist and we only reported that.
Further, you mention that after reading the articles published by OpIndia.com, Swati Chaturvedi was pained to learn that her peers doubted her bonafide and that she has lost readership because of our articles. We would like to thank Swati Chaturvedi yet again for confirming that her peers read and trust OpIndia.com.
In so far as the amount of Rs. 50,00,000 demanded by your client in way of ‘damages’ for ‘mental agony’ and ‘loss of reputation’ unless we delete our articles, we would like to categorically state that since the allegations against us are not valid, we don’t consider it relevant that any money should be paid to your client.
We are given to believe that Ms Swati Chaturvedi believes in freedom of express, freedom of the press and does not believe that articles written by journalists in criticism can cost anyone their reputation.
Recently, Ms Chaturvedi had slammed the Uttar Pradesh government for arresting a former journalist for making derogatory comments against the UP CM Yogi Adityanath.
Thank you Supreme Court because you upheld FoE & the Constitution pic.twitter.com/zwbrGXNbl8
— Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) 11 June 2019
We would like to reiterate the famous quote she plugged that read: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.
We surely are guilty of telling your client Swati Chaturvedi and many other journalists things that they do not want to hear. As demonstrated by your client herself, this is liberty and not defamation.
In the end, we’d like to reiterate that we are not running any personal agenda against Swati Chaturvedi, but the same can’t be said with surely about Swati. She has been relentlessly commenting about OpIndia and people connected with OpIndia in a disparaging and abusive way on social media and in her book. We’ve got a list of over a 100 (and counting) links of her social media posts and book that we could produce in a court of law in support of our claims.
In all our articles on OpIndia that feature her, we have only highlighted her hypocrisy (of using abusive language while terming others ‘trolls’) and various issues with her reportage (her reports often turning out to be untrue) and conduct in the virtual world, which are based on publicly available material.
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017