The Delhi High Court on Monday issued notices to Republic TV and Times Now on a plea filed by top Bollywood filmmakers and producers seeking to restrain them from making or publishing allegedly “irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks” against the film industry and conducting media trials against its members on various issues, Bar and Bench reported.

The court also asked the media channels to ensure that defamatory content is not displayed on their channels or on social media platforms.

Senior Advocate Rajiv Nayar, representing the plaintiffs, said many news programmes drew a parallel with the film industry and the drug mafia. “It does not stop here,” he said. “Now they proceed as if we have links with Pakistan and ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence]. Your Lordship will see how the reports start with reports on Sushant Singh and move on to links with drug peddlers and Pakistan.”

Nayar argued that the news channels violated the privacy of several Bollywood actors by accessing their WhatsApp chats. The Narcotics Control Bureau, one of the central agencies investigating the death of Sushant Singh Rajput case, had on September 23 issued summons to actors Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor and Rakul Preet Singh based on the leaked WhatsApp conversations purportedly discussing drugs.

Senior advocate Akhil Sibal, also representing the Bollywood filmmakers and producers, submitted that a section of media has abandoned journalistic principles. He also spoke about the News Broadcasting Standards Authority warning news channels against conducting media trials.

Justice Rajiv Shakdher then asked the lawyers why individuals who claim to be aggrieved have not themselves become plaintiffs in the case. Nayer replied that they can be made plaintiffs, adding that they were only seeking an injunction in the case and have reserved the rights to claim damage.

“...the idea is not to attack the Fourth Estate [Media],” Sibal said. “What we called yellow journalism – that fringe has become mainstream. So a signal has to come from the court.”

Justice Shakdher pointed out that courts usually hesitate in restraining media reports as it was their constitutional right, but agreed with the lawyers and said that it expects fair reporting.

Senior Advocate Sandeep Sethi, representing Times Now, raised questions on the maintainability of the plea as those aggrieved were not in the court. Justice Shakdher, however, asked Sethi to answer larger issues.

“What is that should be put in place to change the way the reporting is carried out?” the court asked. “There needs to be some toning down. There are orders of NBSA. But it seems that news channels are not following that. As an officer of the court, what is the next step here if you do not follow self-regulation?” The court also mentioned the case of Diana Spencer, former Princess of Wales, who died because “she was racing away from the media.”

Malavika Trivedi, representing Republic TV, pointed out the critical role the media has played in various cases, including the Sathankulam custodial deaths case. Trivedi was referring to the custodial deaths of a father and son in Tamil Nadu in June in which they were allegedly tortured by the police for more than seven hours.

The court praised the media for their reporting but said that it was the manner of reporting that is in question. “There is no civility in discourse,” it said. The court also pulled up the news channels for the language used during television debates. “Now participants on TV are using cuss words on live TV channels because they get so excited,” it said. “If you keep egging them on, that is what happens.”

Four film industry associations and 34 producers, including The Producers Guild of India, had on October 12 filed a lawsuit against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami and Pradeep Bhandari of the channel, as well as Times Now and its prominent anchors Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs had asked that the channels, as well as social media platforms, to “refrain from making or publishing irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks about Bollywood and its members”. It pointed out that both Republic TV and Times Now have used “highly derogatory” words for Bollywood such as “dirt”, “filth”, “scum”, “druggies” and expressions such as “this is the dirtiest industry in the country”, and “cocaine and LSD [Lysergic acid diethylamide] drenched Bollywood”.

“The plaintiffs are not seeking a blanket gag order against media reportage of the investigation in the cases relating to the death of Mr. Sushant Singh Rajput or of FIRs No. 15 and 16/2020 filed by the NCB [Narcotics Control Bureau], Mumbai,” read a press release shared with “The Plaintiffs are merely seeking perpetual and mandatory injunction against the Defendants from carrying on reportage and publication of material that violates applicable laws.”

The Producers Guild of India has around 130 members, including Bollywood’s leading studios, broadcasters and streaming platforms. The list covers virtually every major family-owned banner, privately held company and corporate studio in the Hindi film industry.