It will have a chilling effect on operations of the media in India: N. Ravi

An international voice has joined the chorus of Indian media associations criticising the award of Rs. 100 crore in damages against Times Now in a defamation case.

On Saturday, the International Press Institute termed the award “disproportionately high” and warned that such large damages could “place such an economic burden on media outlets that their survival is seriously threatened as a consequence.”

A Pune court awarded the damages to former Supreme Court judge P.B. Sawant, whose photograph was wrongly displayed by the channel in a news item on a corruption scam.

The Bombay High Court directed the channel to deposit Rs. 20 crore and provide a bank guarantee for the remaining amount before hearing any appeal against that verdict. The Supreme Court refused to interfere.

Criticising the ruling, in particular considering the global trend in democratic countries towards placing a cap on damages awarded for defamation, IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said that “in the United Kingdom, the recent campaign that eventually led to a reform of the U.K. libel law, called for capping damages at £10,000 [about Rs. 8 lakh]...”

‘Chilling effect'

IPI board member and director of Kasturi & Sons Limited N. Ravi also felt the magnitude of the damages was “wholly out of line” with the general quantum of damages awarded by Indian courts. “It is obvious that an award of damages of this magnitude will have a chilling effect on the operations of the media in the country,” Mr. Ravi told IPI.

“The judiciary has been protecting the freedom of expression of the media, writers and creative artists, and has been expanding the boundaries of free speech as well. It is ironic that a retired Supreme Court Judge should have initiated such an action and that the higher judiciary should have allowed the initial judicial aberration to continue,” he said.

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