In MXM India, Pradyuman Maheshwari and Shruti Pushkarna takes quotes from some senior journalists of India about the first every defamation case filed by a Media against another Media in India.
On April 4, The Indian Express carried a story by editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta with Ritu Sarin and Pranab Dhal Samanta on two key army units moving towards New Delhi without informing the government. Ajmer Singh contributed to the report.There was outrage and denials issued by all and sundry in the government and armed forces. However, save the outbursts, it wasn’t proven that the Express story was incorrect.
…..Those in print may have been a lot more gentle, but a few television discussions were indeed scathing. And then came this interview with Outlook’s editorial President (and former editor-in-chief) Vinod Mehta in newsmag Open on the issue. The headline of the interview said it all: The Mother of All Mistakes (issue dated April 21, 2012). In his inimitable style, Mr Mehta suggested that Mr Gupta was taken in by a story that was planted on the Express.
…The notice asks for an apology and pulling the story off Open’s internet edition openthemagazine.com. At the time of filing this report, Open hasn’t done either and two senior staffers told MxMIndia that the magazine does not intend to do either.
The notice also demands damages of Rs 100 crore each to the lawyer’s clients. That’s five of them – the Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, Ritu Sarin, Pranab Dhal Samanta and Ajmer Singh. The Rs 500 crore damages have to be paid regardless of the apology.
MxMIndia asked a few senior editors for their views on the issue. While many of them did not want to be drawn into the controversy, there were a few who told us that they didn’t know enough of the matter to be able to comment.
Our questions were: Is the media too sensitive to criticism? Just as the Express, Shekhar Gupta & Co sent a legal notice to Open and Vinod Mehta, can governments, politicians, businesspersons and even film-makers who are critiqued by the media also send notices and ask for crores as damages?
Here are reactions from four veteran commentators:
Dileep Padgaonkar, former editor-in-chief, The Times of India:
…As it is, the censorship of cartoons was a dismal warning of the sensitivity of the political establishment. Now if media is going to go at another section of media, there is going to be a free-for-all and the big casualty out here would be good, decent, honest journalism.
Sevanti Ninan, editor, The Hoot, columnist and media-watcher:
….You are saying the chief editor and his colleague are susceptible to plants, thereby seriously questioning their credibility. So I guess the Express could hardly ignore it. IE did come in for a lot of criticism on the import of the story and the display given, including a critical editorial in the Hindu but nothing quite as damning as Mehta’s statements.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, independent journalist and commentator:
I think The Indian Express has over reacted. I think it’s gone a little over the top. … my personal view is that it’s a point of view which obviously the Express doesn’t agree with but I don’t think that what Mr Mehta has said can be construed to be criminally defamatory. …I mean these are ridiculous sums of money. I think we’ve become an extremely intolerant society. ….I think even sections of the media are becoming extremely intolerant of criticism. If you are in a democracy, you have to give the right to everybody to disagree with you.
Sucheta Dalal, senior journalist and commentator, consulting editor, Moneylife:
… It’s the first time that somebody in the media is suing another person in the media, we need to look at how it goes… Otherwise the notice is also a way of making a point, it’s a way of putting pressure. It’s not just Vinod Mehta, if he looks at what was said about that story on the social media, then there are a lot more people that they would probably need to sue. So maybe he is making a case out of Vinod Mehta and Open magazine, we need to see whether they follow through. I would say that the test is not in the legal notice, the test is in seeing whether they are actually going to follow through, stand in court and argue it out.
Read the full feature in MXM India: Apology + Rs 500cr: Is Indian Express right in sending Open a legal notice?
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