The Covid-19 Vaccine COVAXIN was developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research – National Institute of Virology (leading institution of Government of India). As per the Government Portal www.cowin.com, COVAXIN is India’s second largest used vaccine with more than 283 million doses. Since, launch of ‘COVAXIN’ and approval from the Government of India, its manufacturer Bharat Biotech grabbed more attention of several Indian and foreign news publishers and media houses. However, several news articles published by an Indian non-profit news and opinion website, The Wire, defamed the Vaccine manufacturer and the vaccine which resulted in a Rs. 100 crore defamation suit.
The Bharat Biotech, an Indian pharmaceutical company, filed a defamation suit before the Ranga Reddy District Court (Telengana) alleging that ‘The wire’ and its writers and editors published several defamatory articles on its portal.
Apart from ‘The Wire’, the following individuals (who wrote the articles) were made party to the suit:
- Siddharth Varadarajan- Founding Editor;
- Sidharth Bhatia- Founding Editor;
- Mangalam Venu Kesavan – Founding Editor;
- Neeta Sanghi;
- Vasudevan Mukunth;
- Shobhan Saxena;
- Florencia Costa;
- Prem Anand Murugan;
- Banjot Kaur;
- Priyanka Pulla;
- Seraj Ali;
- Jammi Nagaraj Rao.
Senior Advocate Vivek Reddy, who represented the pharmaceutical company, argued that the news portal published several articles without any proper fact-check and those articles contains hoax allegations against Bharat Biotech and its vaccine COVAXIN. Those articles were circulated by the news portal, with the sole and malicious intent to undermine the reputation of Bharat Biotech, even after the Government of India had approved the vaccine.
After hearing the arguments, the Additional District Judge directed ‘The Wire’ to take down 14 defamatory articles from its website and internet within 48 hours and also restrained all the defendants from publishing any article that defames Bharat Biotech or its product.
The Court also highlighted the fact that Bharat Biotech is the only candidate which has been authorized to manufacture the vaccine for children between 15 to 18 years and that the defamatory articles published on the website will lead to vaccine hesitancy.
Later, Mr. Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of ‘The Wire’, tweeted that no advance service or chance was given to them to refute the ‘false claims’ made by Bharat Biotech.
Shilpi Sinha, Associate at S.S. Rana & Co. has assisted in the research of this article.