New Delhi: On October 4, the Gauhati high court’s Aizawl bench stayed defamation proceedings initiated before the city’s chief judicial magistrate against The Wire by media baron and MP Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group, which is associated with E-Cool Gaming.
The magistrate had earlier summoned The Wire‘s three founding editors and Jay Sayta, the writer of the article “Spotlight on Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group as CAG Probes Rs 11,000 Crore Lottery Irregularity”, to appear before her on October 5 upon a criminal complaint filed by the Essel Group claiming that the story based entirely on the CAG’s report of 8th December 2016 was “defamatory”.
The Wire sought a quashing of the complaint on the ground that matters of record in the public domain carried in public interest cannot amount to defamation. While staying the proceedings and asking Essel to show cause, the high court noted The Wire‘s submission that the story could not be called defamatory at all, and that the magistrate had omitted to follow the law’s mandate before summoning The Wire and its editors.
On the day following the high court’s stay order, when the case was fixed for appearance before the magistrate, the Essel Group withdrew its complaint citing an amicable settlement with Sayta (the writer of the article), and the court of the magistrate dismissed the complaint as withdrawn.
According to the terms of the settlement, which was signed by Jay Sayta, who is a freelance journalist, a complaint letter sent by Sayta to the ministry of home affairs would be withdrawn.
When contacted by The Wire, Sayta said: “E-Cool Gaming was perhaps wary that more facts will emerge regarding the CAG report and their defamation case would be counter-productive. They wanted to withdraw the defamation case and asked me to sign an informal MoU stating that I will not pursue or follow-up the story further. While the matter is of considerable public interest that deserves to be thoroughly investigated and the facts put out in the story are completely correct, to avoid a lengthy and expensive legal battle, I decided to sign the MoU to put an end to the matter.”
He added, “The Wire was not party to the MoU and had no prior knowledge of it.”
The Wire’s founding editors Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and M.K. Venu, who had moved the high court, confirmed that they had no knowledge of any settlement between Sayta and Essel until the magistrate’s orders were issued noting that the two of them had signed an MoU.
“The fact that the Zee group has withdrawn its complaint is proof that it’s so-called ‘defamation’ case was entirely lacking in substance, was intended to harass The Wire and its editors, and intimidate the media from looking closely into its business practices,” said Varadarajan in a statement. “The Wire does not consider this matter a closed chapter and is examining its own legal options in the light of the Zee group’s attempt to harass us and put us through needless expense.”
“We are not going to be intimidated by these kinds of tactics,” Varadarajan said. “Even after Essel filed its case, we followed up our original story with another which provided more details. We will continue to pursue the issues raised in the CAG report and home ministry’s documents.”