Once a First Information Report (FIR) is quashed, the media should delete news articles reporting the lodging of the said FIR, as they could harm the reputation and goodwill of the person against whom the case was lodged, the Gujarat High Court observed on Wednesday.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice NV Anjaria was hearing a letters patent appeal filed by an NRI businessman who was named in an FIR lodged in October 2020.
Through Advocate Virat Popat, the businessman sought a direction from the Times of India (TOI) to remove the URLs of the news articles related to the FIR lodged against him. Popat argued that his client’s ‘right to be forgotten’ was being violated by the continued circulation of the said articles.
This argument was contested by Advocate KM Antani for TOI, who said that the Court must consider the freedom of the press before passing any order.
After hearing the contentions, Chief Justice Agarwal orally observed,
“Once an FIR is quashed, nothing remains, and if the article continues to be circulated, it gives an impression that there is a criminal case pending which is against a person – he may be a businessman, a service person, etc – which will harm his reputation and goodwill. The press cannot claim any kind of immunity in such matters.”
As per Popat, after the FIR against his client was quashed in December 2022, he issued legal notices to The Indian Express, the Times of India, and Google to remove all the URLs of the news articles mentioning his name in regard to the registration of the FIR. However, the news outlets gave ‘evasive’ responses, following which he moved the High Court.
His plea was, however, turned down by a single-judge Bench of Justice Vaibhavi Nanavati in February 2022.
On Wednesday, Popat informed the Division Bench about the facts of the case and said that since the press performs a public duty, a writ of mandamus was maintainable against publication houses.
Popat pointed out that the Supreme Court in the Justice KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India case had held that the ‘right to be forgotten’ is a facet of the ‘right to privacy.’
The Bench opined that instead of delving into larger issues, the parties could resolve the dispute, with the respondent news media houses removing the articles in question.
However, Antani pointed out that soon after the FIR was quashed, the news media houses also published articles to this effect.
In response, CJ Agarwal said,
“One cannot expect people to read both articles simultaneously. People might read the initial article only and might not read the second one. So, once the case is quashed, it is the duty of the Press to delete the initial article. Because, when there is freedom for the Press then it is required to be transparent as well. It is accountable for what it publishes for the public.”
The Bench accordingly adjourned the matter to give a chance to the parties to resolve the dispute themselves.
Source: Bar and Bench.