The Delhi High Court on Friday set aside its single judge order restraining news website Cobrapost from publishing the second part of its documentary Operation 136: Part II, an exposé on media houses allegedly tailoring content to promote a Hindutva agenda. The single judge-bench had issued the order on May 24 based on a plea from Dainik Bhaskar, a daily that features in the documentary.

A bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and AK Chawla said the injunction order in favour of the Dainik Bhaskar should not have been passed without hearing Cobrapost, The Indian Express reported. The court added that such an injunction should not be allowed in a routine manner in a case relating to free speech, before hearing the other side, unless there is strong initial evidence that the publication is malicious.

The judges said, with reference to Dainik Bhaskar, that media houses should not be too “thin-skinned”, Newslaundry reported. “Those who fill public positions must not be too thin-skinned in respect of references made upon them,” the court said.

The judges referred the plea back to the single judge bench and asked it to hear Dainik Bhaskar’s petition against the documentary afresh. It said the parties to the case must appear before the single judge bench on October 3.

Soon after the order, Cobrapost published the video on its YouTube channel. “As there is no restraint on publication against Dainik Bhaskar, we now in public interest publish the video transcripts,” the website tweeted.

The documentaries

Part one of the documentary, titled Operation 136: Part I, showed a Cobrapost reporter posing as a religious activist, approaching media houses to help the BJP win the 2019 elections by promoting Hindutva through the press. It showed media house representatives purportedly agreeing to the undercover reporter’s proposal to carry communally-motivated news in exchange for bribes.

The second part claims to have exposed “more than two dozen media houses” agreeing to plant such stories in exchange for money. In a press release, Cobrapost claimed that some media organisations had done so for huge amounts of money.

In a press release, Cobrapost said that the second part of Operation 136, “has exposed owners and high-ranking personnel of more than two dozen media houses, both mainstream and regional, the biggest ones and the smaller ones, the oldest ones and the newer ones.”

The operation shows “Indian media’s underbelly in its most visceral form where even the ‘big daddies’ do not mind agreeing to undertake a campaign that has the potential to not only cause communal disharmony among citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party”, the press release added.