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Indian media up in arms at Times Now damages

The News Broadcasters Association of India has expressed concern that an application for relief by news channel Times Now against a high court decision in a defamation suit has been dismissed.

The broadcaster has been fined INR 1 billion (14.27 million euro) after erroneously broadcasting an image of a former judge in a bulletin with which he had no connection. After losing the resulting libel action by P.B. Sawant in October, the Bombay High Court ruled Times Now would be granted leave to appeal only after depositing INR 200 million in court and providing a bank guarantee of INR 800 million in damages.

The Supreme Court has now let this order stand, pending appeal.

"Such damages came to be awarded in spite of the fact that Times Now had issued a public apology and expressed true contrition for the mistake," the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) said in a statement.

"If innocent errors committed by media are visited with such dire legal consequences, and if media companies are compelled to pay such disproportionately exorbitant damages, despite the issuance of a public apology, it would effectively cripple the functioning of the media.

"The economic burden of such 'gargantuan amounts' would completely jeopardise the media businesses and will directly impact media freedom, independence and survival, which are essential for a vibrant democratic set up in any country," added the NBA.

The Indian Broadcasting Federation has also added its concern at the amount levied of the broadcaster. "We have been informed that conditions involving quantum of damages of this kind are unheard in the history of defamation laws and effectively cripple the media's right to seek redressal by way of appeal," the federation said in a statement.

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