One of Maharashtra's major media groups, Sakal Media Pvt Ltd. slapped a defamation notice on independent news media organisation Newslaundry, alleging that the organisations' two reports on Sakal laying off employees were false and defamatory.
On March 27, Newslaundry had reported that the Sakal Media Group sacked 15 employees of its editorial division of Sakal Times, which violated a government directive not to terminate workers, or cut their wages during the coronavirus pandemic.
A few months later, the media group laid off its entire editorial staff of 50-60 people and shut down its print edition. Newslaundry also reported this news on June 11. Following, on June 16, the media house was slapped with a defamation notice, stating the media carried false and defamatory news reports about the client 'with malafide intention' and 'to settle some other score'.
Newslaundry responded to the notice and asked them to specific factual details that Sakal found disputable.
"These claims are particularly bizarre given that, in the best traditions of fair journalism, we reached out to Sakal Media group's managing director Mr Abhijit Pawar, chief human resources manager Mr Vasudev Medankar, and COO Mr Mahendra Pisal, and accurately published their statements. We find it distressing that a news organization will have such little understanding or respect for journalists to send such a letter."
The media said its reports were accurate and verifiable. "The case is not just disrespect of journalism but the precious time of courts, which undoubtedly have more important issues to deal with. However, if Sakal wishes to pursue that course, the media organisation shall meet at the court of law," the statement added.
It did not stop here, Chief administrative officer of Sakal Media Pvt Ltd, Mahendra Pisal filed an FIR on September 16 at Vishrambaug police station in Pune, against the Newslaundry correspondent Prateek Goyal, who had reported on the layoffs.
According to the complaint, Goyal had published false and defamatory articles related to the Sakal Times. He did not seek permission from Sakal Media before publishing the articles and has misused the official logo. It has further affected the market share of the media group and a massive economic loss that the office bearers and employees had to face, the FIR further read. The Police had even visited his house.
When Goyal called the station and asked for a copy of the FIR filed against him, the department refused. Following, Newslaundry approached the Mumbai High Court seeking the cancellation of the FIR and anticipatory bail for Goyal.
On October 20, the HC ruled that the police could proceed with the investigation, but not to file a chargesheet without the court's permission. The next hearing on the matter will be on November 24.
On October 30, when Goyal was called to complete the legal formalities, a police officer told him that the department was pressured by the Maharashtra Home Ministry into registering the FIR.
Following, on November 1, the Police called Goyal and asked him to hand over his laptop for further investigation. When he asked for a written copy of the order, the Police sought the verbal directions provided by them. When the journalist asked for the hash value of the laptop, the Police refused to entertain any requests.
Labour Commissioner, Mahendra Kalyankar had issued an order in the initial months of the lockdown, stating that the termination of employees from the job or reduction in wages in the current time would result in deepening the crises and will weaken the financial condition of the employee and hamper their morale.
In contrast, the Sakal Media Group asked 15 of its employees to submit their resignations and leave by March 31. Sakal group denied laying off employees after Newslaundry reported on it.
In less than three months, Sakal laid off its entire editorial section of 50-60 employees and shut its print edition, according to Newslaundry. Many of the sacked employees spoke to Newslaundry about their condition, considering they are the sole breadwinners of their family.
The Pawar family owns the Sakal Media Group. It is chaired by Pratap G Pawar, brother of Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Uncle of Ajit Pawar, incumbent Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra.