Much before Tejasvi Surya, BJP's candidate for Bangalore South constituency, obtained a gag order against 49 media outlets on March 29 from reporting allegations that appeared on social media on his personal life, Prathap Simha, 42, BJP's sitting MP from Mysuru who was renominated from the constituency, had got a similar order on the same set of 49 media outlets against publishing "defamatory" statements on his personal life.
On February 16, Simha, seen as one of 28-year-old Tejasvi Surya's mentors, had obtained ex parte temporary injunction against media reports on audio clips of his conversations, citing prospect of defamation ahead of the elections. On April 5, he got the restraint extended until May 29.
The audio clips have, however, been shared widely on social media.
Both Simha and Surya's constituencies went to the polls in the second phase on Thursday. In February, Simha had moved the civil and sessions court with an original suit (OS) against an allegedly defamatory caption in a Kannada newspaper, Srinath Pathrike. The Mysuru MP told the court that he also feared a channel, Samara News, will defame him.
Citing a 1986 order of Karnataka High Court in the A K Subbaiah vs B N Garudachar case, in which the HC ruled that freedom of expression and speech entails a corresponding duty, the court of 12th additional city civil and sessions judge granted a temporary restraining order on 49 media outlets named by Simha.
The judge observed that the complainant has "made out (a) prima facie case, and balance of convenience also lies in his favour". The order stated, "Irreparable injury will be caused to him if an order of TI [temporary injunction] is not granted…. False news will spread immediately and will tarnish the image of any person."
The court also "clarified" that "this order will not come in the way of publishing true fact having concrete evidence".
On April 5, while extending the restraining order, the judge noted, "There is sufficient grounds to extend TI…(it) is extended till next date of hearing (May 29)."
Two media outlets - Public TV and News 18 - contested the ex parte restraint order. The court has placed the two organisations as ex parte defendants in the case.
In the TI obtained by Surya, the Association for Democratic Reform (ADR), an NGO working in the area of electoral and political reforms, on whose PIL the Supreme Court had made it mandatory for all election candidates to disclose criminal, financial and educational background by filing an affidavit with the Election Commission, challenged the lower court's order in High Court. On April 12, a Karnataka High Court pision bench of acting Chief Justice L N Swamy and Justice P S Dinesh Kumar ruled: "The trial judge has restrained the defendants from making defamatory statements against the plaintiff. What is defamatory can be tested only if an act of making a statement or telecasting a programme is challenged by the aggrieved person…. In our view, the defendants are not barred from publishing or telecasting any news item that is not defamatory in their opinion."
The court also observed, "In case the plaintiff is aggrieved by any such publication or telecast of any news item, he may approach the Election Commission."
While ADR's lawyer, Harish Narasappa, maintained that the HC has "effectively lifted the gag", the BJP candidate's lawyer, former advocate general of Karnataka Ashok Haranahalli, said, "The court has said no defamatory articles should be published. It has said the EC can be approached…. The court has not set aside the March 29 order." The Bengaluru court will next take up Surya's case on May 27.
Other court injunctions that occurred in high-profile cases
The city civil and sessions court, Bengaluru, has issued similar temporary injunctions against publication and broadcast of material in high-profile cases in the past. A look at some of them:
In 2015, Kapil Mohan, IAS officer, brought temporary injunction against 32 media houses, and separately and against 29 media houses
Sudhir Reddy, husband of IAS officer Rohini Sindhuri, against 32 media units, and separately against 10 media houses in 2015-16
In March 2017, BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar won ex parte temporary injunction against The Wire against two articles by the website about alleged conflict of interest between his roles as an MP and his interests in defence and media businesses. (In February 2019, a civil judge dismissed the temporary injunction against articles on Chandrashekhar after The Wire contested the ex parte order. Civil Judge Ravindra Joshi observed: "If the press is restrained from publishing any information about the public or public servants, it amounts to curtailing the right of a media person from discharging his duties.")
In 2018, advocate T Chandra Naik, who was accused by a young law intern, obtained TI against 27 media entities from reporting after the intern committed suicide
In 2018, TV channel owner Vijay Tata got injunction against media reports of his links to the accused in a Ponzi scheme. Vijay Tata and an associate, Veena N, filed the suit against 42 media houses
(In all these cases, barring the one filed by Chandrashekhar against The Wire, the suits remain in court, with the interim gag orders still in place. After his lawsuit against The Wire was dismissed, the MP has moved Karnataka HC.)