The Delhi High Court on September 25 directed Twitter to take down a series of tweets published by a former employee of the India Today Group, for prima facie defaming the company and its consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai. “Since social media platforms are accessed by a large number of persons of various ages, it is expected of users to display sobriety and common courtesies to those towards whom the comments are directed,” a Bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher held. LiveLaw first reported the ruling. Aside from accusing the company of bribery, in one of his tweets, Thiyya called Sardesai a “dalla [pimp]”, and asked about the amount of “money [that] changed hands for the Rhea [Chakraborty] interview”.
The court also directed Twitter to furnish the basic subscriber information of Thiyya to the India Today Group, and also prohibited him from uploading derogatory or defamatory content about the company or its employees until further orders. The matter has now been listed for hearing on November 19. However, the tweets that are to be taken down were still visible on Twitter from India at the time of publication. India Today’s parent company Living Media Group was represented by Hrishikesh Barua and Twitter was represented by advocate A Karthik.
The tweets in question, and how Delhi HC and the India Today Group responded to them
On August 28, Thiyya, who had joined India Today as assistant copy editor in August 1999, and resigned in April 2001, posted a Twitter thread alleging that Living Media Group (India Today’s parent) had blackmailed politicians, killed stories to protect one judge Sumit Mukherjee, and fudged circulation numbers for the India Today magazine to attract advertisers, among other things.
In one of his tweets, Thiyya said that “Justice Mukherjee not only took bribes from property developers, he would also ask for calls girls. The code word for girls was “leg piece”. Despite CBI giving the case (including tapes of the judge talking to dalals) as an exclusive to India Today, the story was killed (sic)”.
However, India Today advocate Barua said that a story was published in the India Today magazine on April 14, 2003, on Justice Mukherjee, and Thiyya could have had no knowledge of how the scam was investigated and reported, since he wasn’t an employee of the company then.
Thiyaa had also said that the India Today magazine at one point claimed to have a circulation of 250,000, or “maybe” 400,000. However, he alleged that it had no more than 25,000 paid subscribers, and had a print of 40,000 “tops”. To counter this claim, Barua presented a 2001 report of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which showed that the average circulation of the India Today magazine was 4,24,284 copies between January and June 2000, and 4,28,546 copies between July and December 2000.
In another tweet, Thiyya claimed that a book written by India Today Group’s editorial director, Raj Chengappa, titled ‘Weapons of Peace: Secret Story of India’s Quest to Be a Nuclear Power’ was actually published by Books Today, a sister company of the India Today Group, and was “touted as a best seller” despite selling a mere 900 copies. To this, Barua said that the book was actually published by HarperCollins India.
On abusing Sardesai, the court held that “In any event, the usage of cuss words against an employee of the plaintiffs [India Today], not only impacts the reputation of the concerned individual and lowers his image in the eyes of his friends, acquaintances, peers and associates but also impinges upon the business interests of the plaintiffs.”