Delhi High Court lifted its April 2017 gag order restraining the media houses from publishing any kind of reports in context to sexual harassment allegations made against venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy. He had filed a defamation case against 18 defendants seeking Rs 2.5 crore compensation.
The bench of Delhi High court prima facie held that defendants are not misusing the freedom of speech and expression. “The facts show that as per defendants No 1, 2, 15, and 16 (the four victims), they have had an unpleasant or perhaps more than unpleasant experience with the plaintiff. These facts, the said defendants seek to place in the public domain.”
Newslaundry investor Mahesh Bhatt has filed a defamation case against eighteen defendants alleging them of misusing the freedom of speech and expression, and publishing the articles and stories in connection to the sexual harassment allegations made on him. He had sought Rs 2.5 crore compensation to recover the damage.
The matter had first come up in the high court in March 2017 and then, on 18 April 2017, the court restrained the defendants from publishing any article or commenting on the allegations made through the posts.
The plaintiff claimed that the defendants have made baseless claims to garner the attention of the public. The intention is mala- fide because the plaintiff refused to invest in their business ideas.
Then a single judge HC bench presided by Justice Jayanth Nath said that the defendants have had unpleasant experiences and the publications arrive out of separate incidents everyone have had. The court rejected the argument of the plaintiff that the intention of the defendants are malicious and stated that the plea is bald.
The court also observed that the balance of convenience here does not lie in favour of the plaintiff. The defendants have freedom of speech and expression until he is proven innocent. If so happens he will be entitled to claim damages for the defamation.
Murthy then filed a defamation case against them and 16 other defendants, including the three publications, in 2017, demanding Rs 2.5 crore as compensation for their alleged defamatory posts and comments.
Murthy had sought an injunction against journalists Dipti Nair and Pankaj Mishra, who had written articles titled ‘Sexual Harassment-Underbelly of the Indian Startup ecosystem exposed’ in YourStory and ‘Mahesh Murthy in new sexual misconduct charges Seedfund says had heard other rumours’ in FactorDaily
The publication house like SheThePeople, FactorDaily, and YourStory had published reports highlighting sexual harassment allegations against Mahesh Murthy.AuthorRashmi Bansal, entrepreneurs Pooja Chauhan and WamikaIyer, and an HR Director at the Bangalore unit of a multinational company, Anamika Chadha, had accused him of harassment. While Chauhan and Iyer had posted screenshots of conversations with Murthy, Bansal had alleged that Murthy had touched her inappropriately at a cafe in Mumbai during a business meeting in 2004. Chadha had also made similar allegations against him, saying that he had behaved with her inappropriately during a meeting in 2003, according to the FactorDaily article.
(This news has been written and submitted by Ms. Agrima during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Ms. Agrima is a third year law-student at Hidayatullah National Law University, Naya Raipur, Chhattisgarh.)