A court in Delhi on Monday dismissed Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran’s petition to remove an article published by fact-checking website Alt News about its reportage in May, Bar and Bench reported on Tuesday.
“There is no reason for the court to intervene at such an initial stage and stifle the ever-widening contours of free speech, as developed by the higher courts,” Civil Judge Chitranshi Arora said.
In the article, Alt News had described the newspaper’s reports claiming that mass burials in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh had not risen because of the coronavirus crisis as misleading.
“Dainik Jagran, over the last few days, has published a series of reports attempting to portray that mass burials have always happened along the banks of Ganga and online media is misleading its readers through sensational coverage of the issue,” Alt News had said in its article published on May 30.
During the devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India in April and May, reports had emerged from multiple cities along the Ganga in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar about bodies floating in the river or buried along its banks.
The corpses were suspected to be of Covid-19 patients whose final rites could not be performed at crematoriums as they ran out of space.
Dainik Jagran accused Alt News of defaming it and claimed that the fact-checking website had carried false and disparaging statements in its article, Bar and Bench reported.
Alt News countered the accusations, saying that its article was based on ground investigation and extensive research. The website argued that Dainik Jagran’s petition to have the article removed was in violation of the freedom of press.
The judge hearing the case noted that the Alt News article was based on several interviews. “Whether they finally succeed in proving their defence or not is a matter of trial and cannot be determined at this stage,” Arora said, according to Live Law.
The judge added that in matters of public concern, the freedom of speech becomes even more significant.
“In the instant case as well, the impugned article talks about the mass burials in the state of UP during the horrific second wave of the pandemic Covid-19, which of course, is a concern of and for the masses in India,” she said, according to Live Law.