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TV Today Sues Newslaundry for Defamation & Copyright; 'Frivolous,' Says NL CEO

Abhinandan Sekhri termed the case a SLAPP suit filed by TV Today because it can't handle criticism.

Published
Law
6 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>The group, which owns India Today, has sued Newslaundry for defamation and copyright infringement.</p></div>
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The TV Today Network, which owns the India Today and Aaj Tak news channels, has filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against digital media platform Newslaundry, alleging defamation and copyright infringement.

The suit has been filed against Newslaundry, its CEO and founder Abhinandan Sekhri, its directors and several of its journalists and editors, including Manisha Pande, Ayush Tiwari, Atul Chaurasia, and Hridayesh Joshi.

According to the plaint, Newslaundry's digital shows like TV Newsance (hosted by Pande), NL Tippani (hosted by Chaurasia) and articles (such as those by Tiwari) have "ridiculed, defamed (the TV Today Network), its news channels, its anchors, its employees and management."

It is also alleged that the media watchdog's use of clips from India Today, Aaj Tak and Good News Today in their shows criticising TV Today's channels and journalists violates the Copyright Act as they have been used without permission or license.

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As a result, the TV Today Network has asked the Delhi High Court to pass a permanent injunction getting Newslaundry to take down all their allegedly defamatory content relating to the network's channels from their website and restraining them from putting up any such content again, or infringing on TV Today's copyrights.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have also been included as respondents in the case with TV Today wanting them to take down the allegedly defamatory content posted by Newslaundry on their YouTube and social media profiles, and to suspend and terminate Newslaundry's accounts.

A request for a temporary injunction on these lines, till the court decides the matter, has also been made.

In addition, TV Today is demanding damages of over Rs 2 crore from Newslaundry and the named executives, editors and journalists as damages for the loss of reputation and revenue it has faced.

Speaking to The Quint, Newslaundry CEO Abhinandan Sekhri had this to say about the suit:

"It is nothing but a SLAPP suit similar to what Times Now attempted. Low quality and farcical journalism should be called out – and we will continue to do so."

SLAPP – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – is a term used to describe lawsuits filed by large corporations against organisations that criticise them or hold them to account, that are meant to intimidate and silence the latter.

In the US, several states have passed laws to prevent the misuse of these kinds of lawsuits against journalists and activists.

In January 2021, news channel Times Now had filed a Rs 100 crore defamation suit in the Bombay High Court against Newslaundry over two of their shows (including TV Newsance) claiming they had maligned Times Now anchors Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar.

Newslaundry had defended the shows on the basis that they were factually correct. The Times Now case has not progressed any further at this point, and no temporary injunction was issued by the Bombay High Court.

'Attempt to Usurp TV Today's Digital Market Share'

TV Today's lawsuit seeks to argue that Newslaundry's content, which includes satirical commentary and parodies of various news channels, has a malicious agenda of trying to prejudice their commercial reputation and goodwill to take over their market share in the digital media space (where TV Today claims to be one the 'undisputed leaders').

"The Defendant No 1 also operates in the Digital News Industry and in order to usurp the market share of the Plaintiff in the said industry, the Defendant Nos 1 to 9 launched a targeted attack on the commercial products of the Plaintiff."
TV Today Network plaint against Newslaundry, para 48
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Sekhri termed this a "silly accusation" as Newslaundry's entire purpose was to act as a media watchdog.

"Newslaundry was formed as a news media critique platform in 2012... 'sabki dhulai' because the news media reports on, critiques and scrutinizes all aspects of public life – politics, industry, judiciary, cinema etc etc – but no one reports on or scrutinizes the news media," he said.

"We will keep doing this in addition to ground reports and keep evolving a news ecosystem that is subscriber-driven," he added.

'False, Defamatory & Malicious'

The plaint filed by TV Today includes a list of 15 instances where they claim Newslaundry has made "false, frivolous and dishonest assertions" about the network's channels, journalists and management.

These include

  • Comments in videos and articles about anchor Rahul Kanwal's 'simulated' reporting from Chhattisgarh on CRPF Cobra Commandos and jawans.

  • An article critical of anchor Gaurav Sawant over his broadcast of a CRPF constable's hate speech at a debate, which mentioned that he had shared fake news and had broadcast old videos as breaking news.

  • An article which alleged that the TV Today channels and anchors including Sawant had not covered the news about the arrest of police officer Davinder Singh in January 2020 for allegedly traveling to Delhi in the company of terrorists to conduct an attack.

  • An article asking why anchors of India Today and Aaj Tak like Sawant had not been suspended by the network for their less than credible reporting, when Rajdeep Sardesai was suspended over an incorrect report on the violence on 26 January 2021 in Delhi during the farmers' tractor rally.

  • An episode of NL Tippani where critical remarks were made about Aaj Tak anchors Shweta Singh, Anjana Om Kashyap and the late Rohit Sardana. In particular, the fact that the anchor, Atul Chaurasia, indicated that Singh didn't know the difference between Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide has been referenced.

  • Videos and articles about how TV Today channels have given Baba Ramdev screen time while allegedly being sponsored by his company.

  • Critical comments about the network's new 'Good News Today' channel, including 'mutilating' the voice of Kashyap in a clip and saying that the India Today Group is famous for giving a positive spin to things just because it serves advertisers.

Apart from the claim about Davinder Singh (which is termed "false, defamatory and malicious") and a point made elsewhere in the plaint denying that the channels allow their coverage to be influenced by advertisers, the plaint does not allege any specific factual errors in Newslaundry's coverage.

Nonetheless it is claimed that the comments are "unfair" and "vitriolic" and intended to create an impression that the TV Today Network is not an independent broadcaster, and that its channels, management and programs are involved in "broadcasting and publishing fake news and spreading communal disharmony in the public."

Sekhri defended Newslaundry's reports, saying they "go through journalistic filters that have ensured we have won several respectable awards for our journalism. Their specific accusations will be given appropriate responses legally."

'Copyright Infringement'

A specific feature of the plaint is that apart from the allegations of defamation, it also argues that the use of clips from TV Today shows, including those used to critique or parody the channels, infringes their copyrights.

According to the plaint, Newslaundry's use of their video and sound recordings is not protected by Section 52 of the Copyright Act, which provides an exception to copyright infringement for 'fair dealing'.

It is argued by TV Today that the videos uploaded by Newslaundry use clips "over and beyond the parts which could be considered absolutely necessary for the purpose of criticism or review."

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They allege that Newslaundry is "piggybacking" on their work, and that the use of the clips is "for the sole purpose of making their own programme more interesting, attractive or enjoyable".

Newslaundry has previously pointed out that it does not monetise these videos on YouTube and therefore gets no financial benefit from the use of the clips, which the TV Today plaint tries to counter by saying that they are making a commercial gain because they ask viewers to take paid subscriptions to Newslaundry in their videos where the clips are used.

Sekhri says the strength of this argument will be seen in court, adding:

"It's a frivolous charge made because they cannot handle the criticism."

The plaint and the request for a temporary injunction were filed on 19 October, and the case is likely to be listed for the first time before the Delhi High Court on 28 October.

The high court will first need to consider whether there is a need to grant a temporary injunction in favour of TV Today, which will require them to assess whether there is a risk of irreparable damage to TV Today if some action is not taken to restrain Newslaundry.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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