New Delhi: The mega legal battle between Republic Bharat and India TV that ensued ahead of ArnabGoswami’s Hindi channel launch has ended and the result is a big blow to Rajat Sharma’s organisation in ways more than one. Not only did the Delhi High Court dismiss India TV’s injunction application against former anchor SucheritaKukreti but also crushed the perception being parroted by Rajat Sharma’s team to muzzle the rights of anchors in the industry.
While Rajat Sharma’s team put all its might behind trying to block Kukreti from anchoring on Republic Bharat, the Delhi High Court did not look at this move positively and shut down all attempts to intimidate a former employee by legal threats and litigation. India TV was left on the backfoot with the court refusing to acknowledge any validity in their attempts to stall Kukreti from anchoring on now, key competitor, ArnabGoswami’s Republic Bharat.
Republic Bharat which stood by Kukreti throughout her legal battle against India TV lawyers stands tall with pride as the Delhi High Court came down heavily on Rajat Sharma’s organisation which dragged the journalist to court for “perpetual injunction and damages” in a long 56-page plaint.
Rajat Sharma’s organisation vehemently argued that the senior anchor should be barred from working with Republic Bharat for a significant period. However, in an embarrassing turn of events for India TV and serving as a hammer blow to the argument made by them, the Delhi High Court refused to do so.
The Judge said, “I have considered the controversy and am of the view that no case for grant of interim injunction is made out” and laid down a multiple reasons to establish that India TV’s attempts to prevent former employees from joining Republic Bharat hold no credence.
‘ANY RESTRAINED WOULD INTERFERE WITH AUTONY, RIGHT TO MAKE A CHOICE & FREEDOM’
Speaking unequivocally on the rights of journalists and citizens to make their own professional choices, the Court said, “ Personal choices governing a way of life were held to be intrinsic to privacy and realisation of full value of life and liberty. Any restraint as sought would interfere with the autonomy, right to make a choice and freedom of the defendant and impinge on the dignity of the defendant.”
Refusing to grant an injunction, the Court stressed on the rights of the Anchor vis-a-vis professional choice. Rejecting the arguments put forth by Rajat Sharma’s India TV, the Court said,“The defendant, as a citizen of India, cannot be restrained from striving towards individual excellence in the profession/vocation of her choice. The individual interest of each individual serves the collective interest and correspondingly the collective interest enhances individual excellence.”
‘EXCELLENCE IS A SKILL WHICH IS PERSONAL’
Countering Rajat Sharma’s India TV, the Court said, “ Prima facie it appears that the skill and excellence acquired by the defendant and owing whereto the plaintiff [India TV] does not want to let go of the defendant [SucheritaKukreti] is the personal acquisition of the defendant and the plaintiff cannot have proprietary rights or interest in such acquisition of excellence by the defendant, even if with the contribution from the plaintiff. Excellence is a skill which is personal to the defendant.”
Standing for Kukreti and for the rights of journalists, the Court came down heavily saying that Kukreti had been working for the last 14 years doing “what she is best known to do” and therefore any injunction on the matter was not in question.
“The defendant has been presenting news for the last 14 years and dissemination of news is of public importance and the patrons of the defendant cannot be deprived of the skill and expertise acquired by the defendant over the years in disseminating news,” the Court said.
Dismissing any proposal to not allow Kukreti to appear on-air on Republic Bharat, the Court said, “ The defendant cannot be asked to engage herself in other, behind the scene activities as is suggested, even if besides being in front of the camera for the last 14 years has also been incidentally involved in behind the scene activities. The averments in the plaint itself are guided by the acumen, training and skill of the defendant in front of rather than behind the camera.”
‘BENCHING CAN BE DEVASTATING’
Rajat Sharma’s India TV’s argument was based on Kukreti’s contract with the channel which was to terminate in end-November 2019. As per the argument made by her ex-employers, in their view, the anchor should not be allowed to work with anyone until and unless her contract with India TV expires which not only robs the right of a journalist to freely choose his/her place of work but also could be seen as a suppression of any profession to work.
However, countering the lopsided India TV contract which bars its journalists, despite their resignation from the organisation, from joining other channels for a stipulated time frame, the Court said “Benching a professional for as long as 10 to 11 months can be devastating, capable of inflicting permanent damage affecting mental and physical health and future prospects of a professional. This is more so in the case of Newscasters / News Presenter to whom the adage “out of sight out of mind” would also apply.” Siding with Kukreti’s decision to join and anchor on Republic Bharat, the Court also said, “. It was/is always open to the defendant to not renew the said agreement and to walk across to any other TV Channel including that competing with the plaintiff.”
FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS CITED BY DELHI HIGH COURT
Stressing on Fundamental Rights of every Citizen, the Court cited Article 21 of the Indian constitution and based itself on previous judgements which elaborate on the tenet of personal liberty which applies in this case to counter India TV.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DECISION OF THE COURT
The 10 pagejudgement authored by Justice Rajiv SahaiEndlaw is crucial because it reiterates the rights of journalists at a time when their employers have used their contractual paperwork to intimidate and legally threaten talent in the industry.
After ArnabGoswami’s exit from Times Now, several journalists who joined Republic TV from his former employer were legally threatened by the Times Group which essentially corroborates the narrative of bitter employers using the fine-print of contracts to intimidate and threaten their ex-employees.
With this judgement basing itself on fundamental rights, the right to free choice and personal liberty, young journalists can take solace in the fact that their career paths will not be impeded and suppressed by intimidation tactics from corporate giants in the media industry. That is the biggest win for independent journalists and the industry as a whole.