“I will be going to the Press Council of India;
and, the Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI), which I head, is
currently preparing a memorandum to be presented to India’s Information &
Broadcasting Minister, Mr. Prakash Javadekar, protesting this harassment of
journalists; and further perhaps to the Union Law Minister protesting the misuse
of libel laws,” She adds.
“Cases such as these, as you know, are called
SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation), being increasingly used
in India by large corporations to threaten the media into silence. My particular
case is not just to intimidate me, but to silence all further reports on the man
and his misdoings in Africa,” says Keya.
It’s now to be seen what’s in the offing for Keya
and what kind of battle she is to fight for her daring work as a journalist.
This, however, is not the first such case in
India. Rather, corporate houses sending such legal notices to journalist and
writers with claims of such unexpectedly higher compensation are on increase in
Few months back, India’s richest man Mukesh
Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. had served such legal notices on the authors
and distributor of the book "Gas Wars - Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis."
The book, authored by journalist Paranjoy Guha
Thakurta as the lead author and two co-authors Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri and Subir
Ghosh, “chronicles the entire controversy surrounding the ongoing and proposed
extraction of natural gas from the Krishna Godavari (KG) basin in the Bay of
Bengal off the coast of Andhra Pradesh,” says Tehelka, a magazine known for
RIL, through the legal services firm Khaitan & Co,
also served legal notices on Debashis Basu, editor and publisher of Moneylife,
Moneywise Media Pvt Ltd, and Sucheta Dalal, managing editor of Moneylife, for
publishing an article that reviewed the above mentioned book.
The notice, while referring Ms Dalal, the managing
editor of Moneylife as reporter, accuses her of "validating highly objectionable
parts from the book ‘Gas Wars - Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis’ in her article
'Ambani ki dukaan?'. Interestingly, the notice refers to the book as 'Pamphlet'
at all places, including notices sent to the writers and publishers of the book,
mentions Moneylife in its report about the notice.
It’s to be noted that RIL has recently taken over
India’s large media conglomerates like IBN and TV18.
Condemning such legal notices, an appeal by a
forum of conscious citizens said, “We have read the book ‘Gas Wars: Crony
Capitalism and the Ambanis’ co-authored and published by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
and the review article ‘Ambani ki dukaan?’ by Sucheta Dalal, Managing Editor of
moneylife magazine website and her messages on twitter and we found nothing
defamatory either in the book or in the articles and tweets. The impeccable
credentials of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Sucheta Dalal have been exemplary for
Indian journalism in the era of paid news, embedded journalism and draconian
corporate control over media.”
“This undemocratic act by these richest persons of
our country and the artificial persons-the companies- they run is totally
unacceptable, deplorable and constitutes an illegitimate advance against
citizens’ rights,” the appeal said.
Another book authored by business writer Tamal
Bandyopadhyay on the Sahara Group also irked the owner of the group that, in
December 2013, sued Bandyopadhyay with a defamation suit for Rs 200 crore and
got a stay against its distribution.
Sahara Group, however, withdrew the defamation
case in April 2014 on condition that the book ‘Sahara: The Untold Story’ will
include a disclaimer by Sahara stating: "The book at best can be treated as a
perspective of the author with all its defamatory content, insinuations and
other objections, which prompted us to exercise our right to approach the court
of law... By getting the opportunity to put forward our objections in the form
of a disclaimer...in the best tradition of Sahara and our respect for a
journalist's freedom, we are...withdrawing the case we had filed against the
publication of the book," as quoted by Legally India.
Such vindictive actions from leading corporate
houses of India not only intimidate journalists who dare to bring the truth to
public, but it also limits the fundamental right of free speech which happens
to be the very basic of a democracy.
In the words of George Washington, “If men are to
be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the
most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of
mankind, reason is of no use to us, the freedom of speech may be taken away, and
dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
While increasing control of corporate houses over
media in India is seen by many as a threat to free press, there is a general
apprehension that use of SLAPP against journalists by corporate houses would
limit the scope of freedom of speech and, thus, democracy in India.