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‘Criticise people for opinion but don’t drag their families’: Delhi HC on the HT Media vs Gaurav Taneja case

The court said, “All the criticism against us is just and fair in our view. Whether we like it or not, we are public figures. But assume we were to render a decision and instead of criticising that you get into our family life. Could it be just and fair criticism?"

On August 2, the Division Bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Amit Sharma of the Delhi court said judges, public figures and social media influencers could be criticised for their opinions, actions and judgment. However, it cannot be extended to their family members and children. The judges expressed their dislike of dragging Taneja’s child in an article written by Shefali Bhatt for Live Mint, a financial daily owned by HT Media.

The court said it was a matter of debate if the journalist’s freedom extends to people reaching into someone’s house and making comments on their family. However, calling someone a child abuser without any proof was offensive. Justice Mridul said, “You don’t like what the people say or do, criticise them but don’t reach into their houses. According to us, that is offensive. Whether journalist freedom extends to that, we don’t know at this time. This has to be decided.”

Recently, a single-judge bench of the Delhi Court had directed Hindustan Times Media Limited, the owner of Live Mint, to take down an allegedly offensive article against YouTuber Gaurav Taneja, who is famous by the screen name Flying Beast. In the article, the author cited social media comments against Taneja that called him a ‘child abuser’ and ‘misogynist’, among other things.

Gaurav Taneja and others filed the injunction suit against HT Media, Shephali Bhatt and others by Advocate Mukesh Sharma against the slanderous article against them.

Senior Advocate Amit Sibal appeared for HT and argued that the single Bench did not give them enough time to file a reply. He further claimed that the order also failed to “appreciate the test that Taneja and other plaintiffs need to prove malice on the part of the media house to order the removal of an article.”

Calling Taneja a public figure, Sibal further said that it should be decided if the freedom of speech of a journalist extends in relation to public figures. He said, “You may agree with it or disagree, but is this an article that is generating public debate. Therefore, in order to stifle this debate, he needs to show malice. The question, therefore, is whether this test was applied in this case.”

The court, however, was not pleased by the fact that the article mentioned Taneja’s child. The Bench said, “Child can’t be a victim of someone else’s propaganda… We are completely unhappy with the reference to the child. That we find very offensive.” The court further added that people who are in the public domain, including the judges, can be criticised. However, it is not right to drag their families if you do not like a judgment passed by a particular judge.

The court said, “All the criticism against us is just and fair in our view. Whether we like it or not, we are public figures. But assume we were to render a decision and instead of criticising that you get into our family life. Could it be just and fair criticism? This analogy may be a stretch. If you don’t like it (judgement), criticise us by all means but don’t say we are child abusers. In today’s environment, this debate is necessary, but you don’t need to name a person for that debate.”

‘Taneja is not a public figure’

Possibly on a lighter note, the court suggested that Taneja was not a public figure as the judges had not heard his name before. “Just because someone tweets does not mean he is a public figure. Even pied pipers have followers, does not mean they are public figures… He is not a public figure. A public figure is someone who we would have heard of. We have not heard of this gentleman. You (Sibal) are a public figure,” said the court.

HT Media has been asked to file an application under Order 39 Rule 4 of the CPC to seek relief from the single-bench judge. Furthermore, Taneja’s counsel, Senior Advocate Percival Billimoria has been directed to appear on advance notice and argue on the matter and not seek further time to file a reply.

Single-judge bench asked Live Mint to take down the article on Taneja

On July 28, popular YouTuber Gaurav Taneja aka Flying Beast, announced on Twitter that the Delhi High Court had ordered Mint, a subsidiary of Hindustan Times and its journalist Shepali Bhatt to remove the article and Tweets that were directed to defame the YouTuber and his family.

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