HC imposes curbs on Tamil magazine

Asks publisher to seek Kanimozhi’s response before reporting on her private life

May 18, 2018 01:10 am | Updated 01:10 am IST - CHENNAI



Striking a balance between press freedom and the right to privacy, the Madras High Court has restrained Tamil magazine Kumudam Reporter from publishing anything regarding the private life of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader and Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi without making a genuine attempt to receive her response within a reasonable time and publish such response also, if furnished, with equal prominence.

Justice R. Subramanian passed the interim order in a civil suit preferred by Ms. Kanimozhi in 2014 seeking damages to the tune of ₹1 crore from the publishers of the magazine for alleged defamation and loss of reputation caused by them by carrying a series of articles against her. The judge clarified that the term ‘private life’ would mean matters related to her family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, child bearing and education.

“Whenever the respondents propose to publish any article related to the private life of the applicant, claiming that it is in public interest, the respondents shall forward their queries/gist or the full article to the applicant to her email ID and await for her response. If any response is received within 48 hours, it shall also be published with same prominence of the article. If no response is received, the respondents will be at liberty to go ahead and publish the article,” the judge ordered. Making it clear that the restrictions imposed by him were only with reference to any publication which involved exclusively private matters, the judge said: “It is not extended to the functions of the applicant as a Member of Parliament or as a leader of the political party.”

Taking his decision in the light of the law laid down by a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy’s case on August 24 last year, Mr. Justice Subramanian said that though there could not be blanket injunction against the press as rightly contended by senior counsel Satish Parasaran, the publishers could not also be permitted to publish anything and everything in the guise of public interest as contended by senior counsel P. Wilson, representing Ms. Kanimozhi.

Puttaswamy’s case

He said that the theory that there could not be prior restraint or a gag order against the media stands diluted after the Supreme Court judgment in Puttaswamy’s case. The observations made by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in that judgment would show that the media could not publish anything and every thing just because it happens to make interesting news.

Justice Subramanian also pointed out that apart from various articles published by the magazine accusing the MP of having acted against her brother and DMK working president M.K. Stalin, it had recently published an article stating that her former husband, whom she had divorced in 1989, owned an estate near Kurangani forest where a fire broke out in March this year killing 23 people. The publishers had justified such publication with a startling response that they had to sell their magazines.

“This, in my considered opinion, exposes the mind of the respondents to write anything and everything, which is even remotely connected to the applicant, in order to enhance their commercial interest. I am unable to accept this as a responsible journalistic approach. An unfortunate fire accident that took place in the forest is sought to be related to somebody who was connected with the applicant some 30 years back only with a view to enhancing the sale of the magazine,” the judge added.

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