Surya injunction untenable

An ex-parte injunction passed by a civil court in Bengaluru against publication of any “defamatory statements’’ against Tejasvi Surya, the BJP candidate for the Bengaluru South Lok Sabha constituency, is illegal and unconstitutional. It is a blanket order that covers 49 print, electronic and social media outlets, including international forums. The order was passed on a petition by Surya, who said that some allegations were levelled against him after he filed his nomination papers and some defamatory messages were circulating in the social media. These referred to comments about him by a woman on twitter and speculation that some others may come up with other charges. As a candidate and a person in public life, he should have faced the charges or replied to them as many others in his position have done or are doing. He has the option of filing a defamation suit if he wants. But to seek prior restraint on publication of information is to impose curbs on free speech. 

The court’s order was based on a Karnataka high court decision which was given in different circumstances. The 1986 AK Subbaiah vs BN Garudachar case ruling is not relevant or applicable in this case because the injunction then was on a person who had made a public statement which was deemed to be defamatory. In the Surya case, a restraint order has been imposed on the entire media even before anyone got to know what the objectionable statement is. This is pre-censorship, and it violates a number of Supreme Court judgements on the matter. The apex court has said that there is no law for regulation of content before it is published or broadcast, and that prior restraint can be imposed only to prevent re-publication of material which has already been published and may be considered to be defamatory. The Bengaluru judge unfortunately ignored all these rulings and thought the sudden emergence of allegations after Surya filed his nomination paper was “questionable’’. 

The statements which the judge prevented from being made and Surya wanted to be blacked out are especially relevant because he is seeking public office. Blocking such information now might also amount to interference in the poll process. Any information about the candidate is of public interest. Surya can respond to such information after it is made public. But pre-censorship is illegal and insidious and the instinct to go for it is authoritarian and dangerous. Surya has actually invited questions and created doubts about himself by refusing to submit to public scrutiny. He starts his public career with a cloud hanging over his head and on a wrong and ominous note. 

 

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Surya injunction untenable

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