Judges, public figures or social media influencers can be criticised for their opinions, actions and judgment, but that criticism cannot extend to their children or family members, the Delhi High Court said on Tuesday.
A Division Bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Justice Amit Sharma noted that whether journalistic freedom extends to people reaching into someone’s house and making comments on their family is something to be decided, but calling someone a child abuser without proof is offensive.
“You don’t like what the people say or do, criticise them but don’t reach into their houses. According to us that is offensive. Whether journalistic freedom extends to that we don’t know at this time. This has to be decided,” Justice Mridul said.
The observations came during the hearing of an appeal by Hindustan Times (HT) Media Limited (owner of Mint) against an order of a single-judge which had directed it to take down an article against YouTuber Gaurav Taneja (Flying Beast).
The allegedly defamatory article had cited some social media comments against Taneja calling him a ‘misogynist’ and ‘child abuser,’ among other things.
Senior Advocate Amit Sibal, appearing for HT, argued that the interim order was passed without considering the test laid down while deciding a journalist’s freedom of speech in relation to a public figure.
Sibal said that the single-judge had passed the order without giving them time to file a reply and failed to appreciate the test that Taneja and other plaintiffs needed to prove malice on the part of the media house to order the removal of an article.
“You may agree with it or disagree but is this an article that is generating public debate. Therefore, in order to stifle this debate, he needs to show malice. The question, therefore, is whether this test was applied in this case,” Sibal argued.
The Court, however, said that it is disturbed and finds it offensive that the article referred to Taneja's child.
"Child can’t be a victim of someone else’s propaganda... We are completely unhappy with reference to the child. That we find very offensive," the bench said.
The Court also remarked that criticism against judges is also in the public domain and whether they like it or not they are public figures. But if the judges render a decision, the criticism or judgement or the judge cannot extend to their family members.
“All the criticism against us is just and fair in our view. Whether we like it or not we are public figures. But assume we were to render a decision and instead of criticising that you get into our family life. Could it be just and fair criticism? This analogy may be a stretch. You don’t like it (judgement), criticise us by all means but don’t say we are child abusers. In today’s environment, this debate is necessary but you don’t need to name a person for that debate,” the Court said.
The bench, in lighter vein, also remarked that Taneja was not a public figure because they have never heard of him.
“Just because someone tweets does not mean he is a public figure. Even pied pipers have followers, does not mean they are public figure… He is not a public figure. Public figure is someone who we would have heard of. We have not heard of this gentleman. You (Sibal) are a public figure.”
The Court then asked Mint to approach the single-judge again and file an application under order 39 Rule 4 of the CPC and seek the relief there.
The Court has also directed Taneja's counsel to appear on advance notice, argue the matter and not seek time to file a reply.
Senior Advocate Amit Sibal along with advocate Naman Joshi appeared for HT.
Taneja and others were represented through Senior Advocate Percival Billimoria along with advocates Raghav Awasthi and Mukesh Sharma.