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Dainik Jagran had filed a suit seeking injunction against fact-checking portal Alt News for an article dated May 30, published by the latter titled Dainik Jagran’s misleading reports portray mass burials in Prayagraj haven’t risen due to Covid. Dainik Jagran alleged that the article carries “false, incorrect, disparaging and scandalous statements” attributing knowledge and complicity on its part to the mass burials.
The original article about mass burials published by Dainik Jagran which was criticised by Alt News, had claimed that the mass burials at the Shringverpur ghat was a regular feature, and not only due to Covid deaths. Dainik Jagran submitted to the court that this was based on facts, and with no intention to sensationalise or refute the fact of Covid deaths. Dainik Jagran submitted that the Alt News article claimed that it received government ads worth over Rs 100 crore in 2014-15 to 2018-19, and was the highest recipient of government ad revenues. The Alt News article had also claimed, “The reports by Dainik Jagran do not corroborate with the ground reality and in fact, are an attempt to normalise the recent deaths caused due to mismanagement and government apathy.”
The defendants, Alt News, submitted that Dainik Jagran’s plea is violative of freedom of press under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and is a SLAPP suit i.e ‘strategic lawsuit against public participation’.
The court examined if there is even the slightest veracity in the claim of defendants that what they published is true, and based on extensive research and ground reports, the court found that the article shows that the defendants have based the contents of the article on various interviews and research.
“Whether they finally succeed in proving their defence or not is a matter of trial and cannot be determined at this stage. In such a case, where the defence of truth taken by the defendants may stand a chance to succeed at trial, there is no reason for the Court to intervene at such an initial stage and stifle the ever-widening contours of free speech, as developed by the Higher Courts,” observed the court.
“Freedom of speech becomes all the more significant when the subject matter is a matter of larger public concern,” the court added.
The court cited Tata sons Ltd. v Greenpeace International & Anr, 2011 SCC Online Del 466 where the court had held that an interim injunction should not be awarded unless a defence of justification by the defendant was certain to fail at trial level.
The court, thus, dismissed the plaintiff’s application seeking interim injunction against Alt News while holding that there is no certainty that defendant’s defence would fail at trial and there is an equal chance that the defendants may succeed in proving the same.
The order may be read here:
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