In a huge setback to Newslaundry investor Mahesh Murthy, the Delhi High Court has vacated its interim order of April 2017 restraining media outlets publishing allegations of sexual harassment made against him by several victim women. The court also lifted the gag order imposed on victims from narrating their stories.
According to the reports, a single-judge bench presided by Justice Jayanth Nath passed the order on Monday stating, “The facts show that as per defendants No 1, 2, 15 and 16 (the four victims), they have had an unpleasant or perhaps more than unpleasant experience with the plaintiff. These facts, the said defendants… seek to place in the public domain.”
Mahesh Murthy, who claims to be a venture capitalist and also an investor in far-left website Newslaundry, had filed a defamation suit against 18 media organisations for covering the allegation of sexual harassment against him.
The defamation suits were filed against Rashmi Bansal, Pooja Chauhan and Meera (name changed), who had called out his inappropriate behaviour. Few journalists and executives at publications such as Deccan Chronicle, YourStory, and SheThePeople were also named in Mahesh Murthy’s suit.
Delhi High Court Justice Jayant Nath further observed that prima facie, it cannot be said that the said defendants have no case whatsoever or are misusing freedom of speech to tarnish/ defame the plaintiff.
The Delhi court also rejected Murthy’s contention that two victims were disgruntled and had malafide intentions, as Murthy had refused to invest in their ventures. The court also observed that Murthy’s plea was ‘bit of a hotchpotch’ as he had connected all the unconnected incidents/ events into one and sought relief against all of them in one case itself.
The alleged molester Murthy had claimed that the victims, websites and media houses had published content in a ‘sensational manner which misleads a common man reading the same to draw a conclusion that he is in the habit of exploiting and harassing young women entrepreneurs’. He had made the victims of his alleged crimes and media houses and journalists who had reported the allegations against him as defendants in the case, clubbing them all in one category. Murthy had even filed the case against two of his partners.
“The said defendants have a right to exercise their right of freedom of speech. If these incidents and claims of the said defendants are in trial proved to be false, the plaintiff would have a right to claim damages,” the court said in its order.
Rights activist and lawyer Deepika Bharadwaj has welcomed the order. She has stated that she and 18 other defendants were stopped from speaking about Murthy’s misdemeanour by the gag order.
Three years ago, #MaheshMurthy dragged me into a bogus defamation case at Delhi High Court first & then took a gag order on me & 18 more defendants to stop anyone from speaking about his misdemeanor. I was dragged even tho I made no public comment. Gag is lifted— Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) July 8, 2020
NOW I WILL TALK
Sexual harassment charges against Mahesh Murthy
In 2017, several media organisation including OpIndia had reported allegations of sexual harassment against News Laundry funder Murthy made by six women — three of who went on record with their experience. The accounts of the harassment had happened in the past from 2003 to 2016.
Pankaj Mishra, founder of technology website FactorDaily, in a series of tweets, had accused venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy who is also an investor in the Left-leaning self-proclaimed ‘media watchdog‘, Newslaundry.
The reports which highlighted sexual misconduct of Murthy stated that an author named Rashmi Bansal and a woman journalist had accused Murthy of inappropriate behaviour, ranging from inappropriate electronic messages to verbal advances to physical grabbing. Murthy had also allegedly sent an inappropriate message, “Hey babe, one’s supposed to celebrate Diwali by blowing a pataka. So can I go down on you please? :-)” to a woman government officer in Delhi.
The report had stated that many people knew of Murthy’s alleged misbehaviour, but no one has taken a stand against him except an IT giant.
A woman executive was allegedly asked “Are you a virgin” by Murthy back in 2006, and then the company blacklisted Murthy’s digital media company, Pinstorm.