The Bombay High Court recently directed five respondents to delete 'defamatory' videos and comments on the allegedly ‘murderous’ side effects of the Covishield vaccines developed by pharma tycoon Adar Poonawalla and his organisation, The Serum Institute. The respondents, including a YouTube channel owner and a news page, had allegedly posted and circulated comments and videos online accusing Poonawalla of being a ‘murderer’ following the death of a doctor immunised with Covishield. "I am of the prima facie view that the contents are in fact per se defamatory in that there is no justification made out by the Defendants in support of the statements made which have been referred to above," ruled Justice R.I. Chagla on June 5th. Justice Chagla also directed the respondents to restrain themselves from making further comments on the matter until the case was disposed off. They were further ordered to issue an unconditional apology to Poonawalla and the Institute for the defamatory, baseless, unsubstantiated, and unwarranted comments. Why it matters: Recent judgments from around the world have recognised that targeted personal attacks online, visible to millions of people, can have outsized impacts on people's reputations. However, such judgments may also come at the cost of free speech—which has been interpreted to include the right to lie. The spectre of Internet-scale reputational damage online may end up being used to stifle criticism about powerful people, with chilling effects on free speech. The bottom line is: free speech may have to be reinterpreted in the digital era to regulate 'lawful but awful'…
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