The Bengaluru City Civil and Sessions Court on Saturday passed an interim order of temporary injunction restraining the newspapers and television channels from publishing or broadcasting anything defamatory against six ministers in the Yediyurappa's cabinet.
The six ministers had sought a restraining order from the court against 68 media houses after one of their colleagues Ramesh Jarkiholi resigned as minister after getting embroiled in a sex scandal. Jarkiholi, who was the water resources minister, resigned after a CD of him in a compromising position with an unidentified woman surfaced on the social media, which was followed by a police complaint by one Dinesh Kallahalli, a social activist, who alleged the minister was involved in the "job for sex" scam.
The six ministers—Shivaram Hebbar (Labour), B. C. Patil (Agriculture), H. T. Somashekhar (Cooperation), Dr K. Sudhakar (Health and Family Welfare and Medical Education), K. C. Narayana Gowda (Municipal Administration) and Byrati Basavaraj (Urban Development)—are among the 17 Congress and JD(S) rebel MLAs whose resignations had lead to the collapse of the coalition government in July 2019. The ministers suspect a major "political conspiracy" to mar their image.
In the petition, the ministers had stated that the media had published and telecast unverified news about Ramesh Jarkiholi, which led to his resignation.
"Some of the media houses are telecasting and publishing news that there are 19 more sex scandal CDs related to MLAs and ministers, and an influential leader from Old Mysuru region. This has led to people from our constituencies calling us on the presumption that we are all involved in sex scandals. Our family members are facing embarrassment, too. The news reports state the CDs might surface any time. A process of deep fake using artificial intelligence has been used to morph the videos of politicians globally. Such fake CDs will harm our reputation and cause loss of respect in the society and our families," stated the petitioners.
The court observed that the citizens had the right to know about their elected representatives and if they are performing. Similarly, media has right to freedom of expression and the duty to report such matters so as to appraise the people about the conduct of their elected representatives. “Media is considered to be the fourth pillar of our democracy. At the same time, plaintiffs have a right to be protected against their character assassination on the basis of unverified material,” the court said.
Noting that the plaintiff's counsel had cited the decision of the Delhi High Court in the case of Swatanter Kumar Vs. The Indian Express Ltd. and others in 2014, the court said the media, in this case, should "walk the extra mile" to get news item and get its source verified through legally admissible process.
"At this stage, as can be seen from the printouts of the screen shots produced (in the court), the news items are apparently in the nature of sensationalisation of the unverified material. Not even clear foundation is available in the said news items," remarked the court.
Earlier in the day, the ministers defended their move to seek an injunction even as the opposition parties mocked them saying the plea seeking injunction was admission of guilt.
Somashekhar claimed that many more ministers and MLAs would be seeking an injunction order in the coming days. "We got information during the ongoing legislature session that we are being targeted for toppling the coalition government. And many CDs will be released to tarnish our image. As a precaution, we sought an injunction from the court. All the 16 MLAs will go to court seeking protection of our reputation," said Somashekar.
The Congress state unite tweeted: "Why is the state cabinet shuddering at the mention of the word CD? Why do the ministers want to bring an injunction against the media before the publication or telecast of the alleged CDs? The BJP government has immersed in a major scam right from the beginning. All this points to the fact that the BJP came to power using the underworld, threats, honey trapping, blackmail, bribe, supply of alcohol and women. It can stoop to any level.”
"What are the ministers afraid of? Why did they approach the court? This has raised the suspicion of the courts on the legislature. The chief minister should drop all the ministers who have approached the court," demanded JD(S) MLA Sa. Ra. Mahesh.