The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed news website The Wire and its journalists to withdraw their petitions seeking the quashing of the criminal defamation case and a civil defamation suit filed against them by Home Minister Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah, PTI reported. The top court said the trial will now be expeditiously completed by the competent court.
Jay Shah had filed two cases against the website – one criminal defamation case and the other a civil lawsuit of Rs 100 crore – for an article published in October 2017. The Gujarat High Court had refused to invalidate the defamation complaint, following which the petitioners decided to approach the Supreme Court in July.
The article had alleged that the revenues of his company had grown massively within a year of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party coming to power in 2014. Amit Shah, the national president of the BJP, was not in the Union Cabinet then.
The complaint had been filed against Rohini Singh, the journalist who had reported the story, founding editors of The Wire Siddharth Varadarajan, Siddharth Bhatia and MK Venu, along with the Managing Editor Monobina Gupta, Public Editor Pamela Philipose and the Foundation for Independent Journalism, which publishes The Wire.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra pulled up the media for its practices. It has become a fashion to serve notice to a person for explanation and even before it can be answered, articles are published within a few hours, said the court. “What is this kind of journalism?” the court asked.
The Wire claims it published the article two days after sending Shah a questionnaire.
The bench said publishers and websites should not make the allegations public soon after sending the notice. “Freedom of press is supreme but it can’t be one-way traffic,” the bench said. “Yellow journalism should not take place.”
The bench pointed out that the matter has been pending for over a year and a half now. “We have suffered a lot,” said the court. “It is a very serious issue.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta agreed with the court. He added that it would be an understatement to say what the news websites were doing was yellow journalism.
In a statement later, The Wire said circumstances had arisen due to which it believed it was best “if we make use of the opportunity to justify everything we have stated in the article at the trial”.
“We believe the fight for media freedoms will have to be advanced at all levels,” the website said. “Our article was factual, based not only on record but on facts admitted by Jay Amit Shah. Though it is still very much our belief that neither a criminal case nor an injunction is legally justifiable, we intend to face trial in Gujarat secure in the knowledge that the constitutionally mandated rights of the media will eventually prevail.”
The website also said that for its article, it had sent Jay Shah a questionnaire early on October 6 and published the report only on the morning of October 8. “During this time, Shah’s lawyer sent a detailed reply and did not ask for more time to furnish additional answers,” the website said. “The published story incorporated all of the responses Shah’s lawyer had provided. In addition, the entire contents of the lawyer’s response was published as a separate article as well.”