On Friday, the Indian Express reported that a court in Bangalore had passed temporary injunctions against 49 newspapers, TV stations and social media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, barring them from “reporting false, malicious and derogatory” news about the BJP’s candidate from South Bangalore, 28-year-old Tejasvi Surya. The injunctions will remain in effect until May 27, after the general elections.
The court passed the gag order on a plea filed by Surya, in which he claimed he had been falsely accused of sexual abuse. The court order read, “It appears that some prima-facie defamatory messages pertaining to [Surya] are in transit in the media… How all of a sudden these allegations against the plaintiff emerged immediately after he filed nomination for the general elections is questionable.”
What the court seems to have missed is that the platforms, whether YouTube or Facebook, are mere conduits to commentary, and the gag order means that they will have to scan billions of messages and videos, and take down speech; it effectively ignores that fact that intermediaries have protection from liability, and are not publishers.
‘Most pernicious form of censorship’
For precedent, the court cited a 1987 Karnataka High Court case (AK Subbaiah vs BN Garudachar), which said freedom of speech included the duty to not harm others with one’s speech. But in an editorial published today, the Indian Express wrote that the injunctions “amount to prior restraint, regarded as the most pernicious form of censorship” as it prevents the spreading of information about events that have not even happened.
Gag order applies to these 49 media houses and digital platforms
Surya’s petition names 49 publications, channels and social media platforms including Facebook and Google, but not Twitter. Here is the full list:
- Social media platforms and websites: Google India, Facebook India, WhatsApp, YouTube and Yahoo India
- English dailies and weeklies: The Times of India, India Today, Deccan Herald, The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle, The Indian Express, Bangalore Mirror, Star of Mysore
- Kannada dailies and weeklies: Prajavani, Kannada Prabha, Vijaya Karnataka, Vijayavani, Sanjevani, EESanje, Udayavani and Hosa Digantha, Lankesh Patrike, Gauri Lankesh Journal, Hai Bengaluru, Agni Kannada Journal, Parashu Kannada, Mysooru Mithra, Andolana, Vishwavani, Samyuktha Karnataka, Srinath Patrike
- English TV channels: CNN-News18, Republic TV, Times Now, NewsX and News9
- Kannada TV channels: TV9 Karnataka, Suvarna News, Samaya TV, Public TV, Janasri News, BTV News, Raj News Kannada, News 18 Kannada, Prajaa TV, Digvijaya News, Kasturi TV, Kasthuri Newz 24 and Samara TV
- Other TV channels: ABP Live (Hindi) and TV5 (Telugu)