The Delhi High Court today refrained from staying an order restraining web portal Cobrapost from making public a documentary alleging that various media houses have indulged in unethical practices like paid news. The bench sought the response of Dainik Bhaskar Corporation Ltd on the plea of the portal and its journalist, seeking to set aside the May 24 order of single judge of the high court and, as an interim measure, staying the order.
The court said staying the order of single judge of the high court would mean that the portal could release the documentary after which nothing would remain in the matter. "Passing an interim order after staying the impugned order of the single judge would have an effect of unsuiting. You will publish and nothing will remain in the matter," a bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Vinod Goel said.
The single judge's order had come on a plea by Dainik Bhaskar seeking to restrain Cobrapost, operated by non-profit organisation Forum for Media and Literature, from releasing its documentary, titled 'operating 136: Part II'. Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, appearing for Cobrapost, said it was a matter of freedom of speech and the single judge had granted ex-parte injunction and stayed the documentary mechanically.
The senior counsel, along with advocate Pramod Kumar Dubey, said the single judge's order was passed without application of mind. Senior advocate Sajan Poovayya, representing Dainik Bhaskar, contended that there has been no instance that the group had indulged in publishing paid news. The portal cannot do a sting and go to the public making allegations against Dainik Bhaskar.
"We moved the single judge to restrain them (Cobrapost) from saying that Dainik Bhaskar is indulging in paid news," he said. While perusing the single judge's order, the division bench said there was no reference to the law governing anticipating injury, especially when it concerned the freedom of press. When the portal's counsel insisted on staying the earlier order, the bench said "If we hear it after issuing notice, what prejudice will be caused to you? We have to examine the law when it comes to injunction."
Initially, the matter was listed before a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and C Hari Shankar and when it came up for hearing, Justice Mittal recused herself. Thereafter, the petition was listed before the bench headed by Justice Mridul which listed it for further hearing on July 3. Dainik Bhaskar had earlier argued that if released, the documentary would cause irreparable loss and injury to its reputation.
The portal had, however, released the documentary, but without any reference to Dainik Bhaskar. The single judge had issued summons to the Forum for Media and Literature and others and is expected to hear the matter next on July 4. Cobrapost had carried a story titled Operation 136: Part I on 17 media houses and alleged malpractices, including indulgence in paid news, peddling of communal agenda and acceptance of black currency. It was released on March 26.