Reporters Without Borders has expressed its concern to the head of the Times of India press group about its lawyers’ harassment of a journalist running the weblog mediaah.com, which has driven him to close it.
"Against a background in which bloggers are being harassed and imprisoned in all four corners of the world, this type of step on the part of a media firm appears to us misplaced," the worldwide press freedom group said in a 17 March letter to the managing director of the Times of India, Vineet Jain.
"Reporters Without Borders urges you to drop all harassment or legal action against Pradyuman Maheshwari, who runs the weblog Mediaah.com", the letter said.
"We are contacting you as the result of a letter drawn up by your company’s lawyers instructing this weblogger to delete 19 messages seen as "defamatory" of the Times of India and its management. On receipt of this letter and for fear of a long and costly legal action being launched against him, Pradyuman Maheshwari decided to shut down his blog.
"After examining the offending articles, it seems to us that this journalist was only exercising his right to comment on and criticise your group’s commercial strategy and, more generally, his right to freedom of expression.
"Moreover, as a media owner, you can easily imagine that such a step could have harmful consequences for free expression. It could effectively dissuade other website managers from handling business news, which they have every right to do.
"Against a background in which bloggers are being harassed and imprisoned in all four corners of the world, this type of step on the part of a media firm appears to us misplaced.
We are ready to discuss this case with you at your convenience".
A law firm engaged by the Times of India wrote to Pradyuman Maheshwari on 5 March 2005, instructing him to remove 19 articles posted online that it considered "defamatory" and likely to "tarnish the image" of the press group.
After receiving this letter, Maheshwari decided, on 10 March, to close his weblog. "I think that I would win a possible defamation case against the Times of India. But I am only one journalist against a powerful press group. If they act against my blog on future occasions, sooner or later, I will have to close it. I prefer to anticipate any problems in advance and shut down this publication," he told Reporters Without Borders.
Documents relating to the case, including the letter from the Times of India’s lawyers, can be read on mediaha.blogspot.com.
Indian Internet-users have launched an online petition to back Mediaah. Sign the petition.