The Delhi high court on Monday asked media houses AGR Outlier Media and Bennett Coleman and Company to ensure that no defamatory content is uploaded on social media or displayed on their channels, while hearing a plea by Bollywood producers seeking to restrain them from making irresponsible remarks.
In strong observations while hearing the plea, the high court cited the death of Princess Diana while trying to escape the media chase, and said there needs to be "some toning down" as people are "afraid of the fourth pillar of democracy" because of its powers.
The court sought replies from Republic TV, its editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and reporter Pradeep Bhandari, Times Now editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar and group editor Navika Kumar, and intermediaries Google, Facebook and Twitter on the plea.
Leading Bollywood producers have sought to restrain them from making or publishing allegedly "irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks" against the film industry and conducting media trials against its members on various issues following the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
The lawsuit by four Bollywood industry associations and 34 leading producers, has also sought to restrain them from interfering with the right to privacy of persons associated with the industry.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher was assured by the counsel for the media houses that they will follow the programme code and the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act.
The court questioned the plaintiffs for not making individual celebrities parties in the suit and being represented through associations.
"If the individuals are affected, why are they not joining the proceedings individually? If individuals are aggrieved, they should come on their own and take steps," the judge said.
To this, senior advocate Rajiv Nayar, representing the producers, the celebrities are members of the associations and said he would take instructions on making them individual parties.
The high court issued summons to the media houses and intermediaries and listed the suit for further hearing on December 14.
It also asked senior advocate Sandeep Sethi, representing the Bennett Coleman Group, as to what is the next step if the channel does not follow self regulation.
"There needs to be some toning down. As an officer of the court, tell me what is the next step if you do not follow self regulation. What do we do about this. Your undertakings to the court does not seem to be working. All of you have to do something. It is disheartening and demoralises everyone," the high court said.
"It has to be fair reportage. Tomorrow it could be your (legal) fraternity also. You need to rise above your brief and tell me what should be done," it said.
The high court added that people are afraid of the fourth pillar of democracy because of the power which it has and courts are the last one to interfere in this.
"In the case of Princess Diana, she died because she was racing away from the media. You can't just go on like this. The Courts are the last ones to want to regulate," the judge said.
"See the kind on language you are using on TV. Participants in the debate are using curse words," the judge said, adding that neutrality is expected from the media and the black and white Doordarshan era was much better.
Nayar said it all started with the suicide of Rajput, which later became a murder, then Bollywood became criminal, then drug peddlers and now ISI marks.
"This is how the course of this defamatory -- scurrilous -- I must say, campaign changed," he argued.
The suit said, "This comes in the wake of these channels using highly derogatory words and expressions for Bollywood such as 'dirt', 'filth', 'scum', 'druggies' and expressions such as 'it is Bollywood where the dirt needs to be cleaned', "all the perfumes of Arabia cannot take away the stench and the stink of this filth and scum of the underbelly of Bollywood', 'This is the dirtiest industry in the country', and 'cocaine and LSD drenched Bollywood'.
Those who have filed the suit are The Film and Television Producers Guild Of India, The Cine and TV Artistes' Association, Indian Film and TV Producers Council, Screenwriters Association, Aamir Khan Productions, Ad-Labs Films, Ajay Devgn Fflims,Andolan Films, Anil Kapoor Film and Communication Network, Arbaaz Khan Productions, Ashutosh Gowariker Productions, BSK Network and Entertainment, Cape of Good Films, Clean Slate Filmz and Dharma Productions.
The list also includes Emmay Entertainment and Motion Pictures, Excel Entertainment, Filmkraft Productions, Hope Production, Kabir Khan Films, Luv Films, Macguffin Pictures, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, One India Stories, R.S. Entertainment, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Pictures, Red Chillies Entertainment, Reel Life Productions, Reliance Big Entertainment, Rohit Shetty Picturez.
The other plaintiffs are Roy Kapur Films, Salman Khan Films, Sikhya Entertainment, Sohail Khan Productions, Tiger Baby Digital, Vinod Chopra Films, Vishal Bhardwaj Pictures and Yashraj Films.
"The livelihood of persons associated with Bollywood is being severely impacted by the smear campaign being run by the Defendants," the plea said.
It claimed that the privacy of the members of Bollywood is being invaded and their reputations are being irreparably damaged by painting the entire industry as "criminals, seeped in drug culture, and making being part of Bollywood as synonymous with criminal acts in the public imagination".