A Bengaluru court on March 30, 2019, issued a gag order to 44 Indian news outlets as well as Google, WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, and Yahoo, barring the outlets and platforms from publishing “defamatory and derogatory” content about Tejasvi Surya, a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, according to independent Indian news website The News Minute.
A Bengaluru civil court judge imposed the temporary gag order in response to an injunction Surya filed at the court alleging that a Twitter post accusing him of sexual misconduct was defamatory, according to Indian CNN-affiliated broadcaster News 18.
CPJ’s text messages to Surya requesting comment did not receive a response.
Any news agencies found violating the order, even by reporting on the existence of derogatory information, can be charged with contempt of court, according to News 18.
The gag order will last until May 27, after the parliamentary elections have ended, when the court will review the case, according to The News Minute; news agencies have until that date to file any objections to the order.
Surya’s lawyer has pushed to make the gag order permanent, according to The News Minute.
News outlets have criticized the court’s decision: an editorial published by The Hindu called the move “poll-time censorship,” while an editorial in The Indian Express called for the gag order to be dropped, saying it “has a chilling effect on the press at a crucial time, robs voters of information, and thereby interferes with the election.”
Yahoo, Facebook (which owns WhatsApp), and Google (which owns YouTube), did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment.