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Supreme Court’s Landmark Ruling: Pre-Trial Injunctions Threaten Freedom of Speech in News Publication, Says SC Bench

New Delhi, 26-03-2024 : The Supreme Court has emphasized the critical importance of preserving freedom of speech by cautioning against the indiscriminate issuance of pre-trial injunctions against news publications, stating that such actions could have significant implications for both authors and the public’s right to information.

In a recent ruling, the apex court overturned a lower court’s decision that directed international media conglomerate Bloomberg to remove an allegedly defamatory news article concerning Zee Entertainment. The Supreme Court asserted that injunctions restraining publication should only be granted after a comprehensive trial, as granting them prematurely could impinge upon the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, leading a three-judge bench, emphasized that such injunctions, especially when granted ex-parte, should be reserved for exceptional circumstances where the content in question is evidently malicious or palpably false. The bench further highlighted that hasty interim injunctions in defamation cases could effectively stifle public discourse, acting as a premature verdict before allegations are substantiated through due legal process.

The court also underscored the potential misuse of prolonged litigation to suppress free speech and public engagement. Bloomberg’s appeal against a Delhi High Court order, which upheld a trial court’s decision, was deemed valid by the Supreme Court, as the lower courts failed to adequately assess the strength of the plaintiff’s case and the balance of convenience.

In response to the ruling, Bloomberg expressed satisfaction and reiterated its commitment to journalistic integrity. The case, originating from a lawsuit filed by Zee Entertainment, saw the trial court granting an ex-parte interim injunction, subsequently upheld by the high court, prompting Bloomberg to challenge the decision.

The appellant argued that the lawsuit was an attempt to curtail their right to free speech and fair reporting, emphasizing the denial of the opportunity to present prior articles in their defense.

While clarifying that its observations were not a commentary on the case’s merits, the Supreme Court provided overarching guidelines for evaluating applications for interim injunctions, stressing the need to uphold constitutional protections for free speech.

The apex court’s intervention highlights the judiciary’s vigilance in safeguarding fundamental rights amidst legal proceedings, ensuring a fair balance between the preservation of reputation and the promotion of open discourse.