By LE Staff
New Delhi, April 9: The Delhi High Court on April 7 dismissed a plea filed by former Editor-in-Chief of India Today Aroon Purie and others seeking quashing of a defamation complaint against him filed by a former Indian diplomat and a subsequent summoning order in relation to an article published in India Today magazine in 2007.
India Today magazine in its edition dated April 30, 2007 had published a news item under the title ‘Mission Misconduct’ asserting allegations of soliciting sexual favour against OP Bhola, the then Indian deputy consul general in Edinburgh.
It led to a probe which revealed financial irregularities and fudging of bills. Consequently, the official was called back to India and is facing disciplinary action.
In response to the defamation complaint, the Court had by an order dated February 26, 2020 directed to issue notice against Mr Purie for the offences under Section 500/501/502 read with Section 120B IPC.
Advocate SS Ahluwalia, appearing for Mr Bhola, said that information about allegation of sexual harassment at the work place was conveyed to him only in the form of a show cause notice without a copy of the complaint and it was only after the news item was published.
“Thus without any basis, India Today went ahead with the publication of an unsubstantiated and unverified defamatory story and splashed it all over the world through the medium of internet,” the former diplomat contended.
“…the publication of the defamatory news story which ignited the flame and the resultant fire engulfed the whole unblemished service career, jeopardized his chances of promotion and, above all, assassinated his precious reputation,” he contended.
Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for Mr Purie, argued that as per Section 7 of Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, normally an editor, printer can only be prosecuted. The petitioner herein is the editor-in-chief and therefore could never be prosecuted, and the news item itself shows the petitioner herein is editor-in-chief and not an editor, the plea contended.
The petition said the news item merely reported facts and hence it cannot be said to be defamatory. Mr Luthra argued that the facts are accurate and reflect the public record and hence no defamation case can be made out.
Mr Ahluwalia argued that “the assertions the news item merely reported facts which were accurate and reflected public records and cannot be held to be defamatory, cannot be accepted. Rather such assertion and who was responsible for its publication and has it came to the fore of editors require critical examination and hence evidence of these issues is required”.
The Court noted that the complainant was later exonerated from all allegations, but with the publication of the article, he was allegedly defamed in the eyes of his wife, his family, his friends and colleagues and society, in India and all over the world, as alleged.
“Till date, even during his retired life, the contents of the defamatory article published by the petitioner allegedly haunt him and he is vigorously pursuing litigation,” a single judge bench of Justice Yogesh Khanna said in its order.
The court also said it was after due enquiry that the summons were issued by the Magistrate to the accused, thereby rejecting the challenge to the summoning order issued on April 20, 2013.
“… there is no ground to interfere under Section 482 Cr.P.C, hence the petition is dismissed. Crl.M.A.No.12577/2020 is also dismissed. Pending application/s is also disposed of. No order as to costs”, the Bench said.
“CRL.M.C.1762/2014 is filed by Saurabh Shukla – petitioner who was working as correspondent of the Magazine in question and CRL.M.C.4636/2013 is filed by such Government Officials, who have since retired. For reasoning given in the Crl.M.C.No.3492/2013 both petitions are also dismissed. Pending applications, if any, also stands disposed of. No order as to costs,” the Court said.