Delhi High Court restrains Cobrapost from releasing film on ‘media malpractice’ by various media houses [Read order]

The Delhi High Court vide an ex-parte injunction order dated May 24, 2018 restrained web portal ‘Cobrapost’ from releasing in public a documentary ‘Operation 136: Part II’ which is an expose on various media houses that were allegedly indulging in malpractices such as paid news, peddling communal agenda, mass polarisation and acceptance of black money. Read order here.

Dainik Bhaskar Corporation sought to restrain Forum for Media and Literature — a non-profit organisation that is engaged in investigative journalism and publishes its investigations on— from making public its “Operation 136: Part II”.

Justice Valmiki J Mehta said, “In view of the arguments urged on behalf of plaintiff (Dainik Bhaskar Corporation Limited), till further orders unless varied by the court, defendants (Forum for Media and Literature and others) are restrained from in any manner releasing in public domain the documentary ‘Operation 136: Part II’ in any manner at the Press Club of India on May 25, 2018 at 3 pm.”

The court also issued summons to Forum for Media and Literature and others and listed the matter for further hearing on July 4.

Cobrapost had carried a story titled “Operation 136: Part I” on 17 media houses and their alleged malpractice, including indulgence in paid news, peddling communal agenda, mass polarisation and acceptance of black currency. Part 1 was released on March 26.

Cobrapost has been reported to state in a press statement that they had been barred from airing the story in part or whole, on the argument of Dainik Bhaskar that if “Operation 136: Part II” is allowed to be released in the public domain, then irreparable loss and injury would be caused to them which cannot be undone.

In the statement, Cobrapost said that the plaintiff, Dainik Bhaskar group, features in the investigations by their team.

“In the interest of the whole truth reaching the public, we are trying our very best to vacate this injunction, but whether we shall be able to achieve this before 3 pm of May 25, 2018, remains to be seen. If we are unable to get the injunction vacated before 3 pm, we will be unable to hold our press conference tomorrow,” it said.

Dainik Bhaskar told the court that the “entire object of Cobrapost is to sully their reputation”.

The documentary showed a Cobrapost reporter posing as a religious activist working to help the BJP in 2019 elections by promoting Hindutva through media. It showed several media houses agreeing to the undercover reporter’s proposal of carrying communally motivated news in lieu of money. The second part of the documentary was to be released today subject to the ex-parte order being vacated.

Ex-parte injunctions in matters involving free speech of media should be granted only in rarest of rare circumstances. The media reaction to this order has been that the Court should not have granted an ex-parte order in this case without giving an opportunity to Cobrapost to be heard.