The lawsuit comes months after India’s freewheeling television news channels took on the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai, with a series of allegations following the suspected suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June.
The case fuelled months of speculation from news channels, which held filmmakers who had rejected Rajput for roles partly responsible for his suicide and accused many Bollywood celebrities of being part of a drug cartel that drove him to kill himself.
India’s federal narcotics agency is investigating alleged drug trafficking in Bollywood.
Rajput, 34, was found dead in his Mumbai apartment on June 4 in what police said appeared to be a suicide. The case is still being investigated.
Monday’s lawsuit saw some of Bollywood’s biggest names, including superstar actors Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar, come together against news channels Republic TV and Times Now.
“These defendants are conducting and publishing parallel private ‘investigations’ and effectively acting as ‘courts’ to condemn persons connected with Bollywood as guilty based on what they claim is ‘evidence’ found by them,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.
The plaintiffs said they sought “redress against the irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory reporting” by the two news channels and their leading anchors.
Navika Kumar, a senior editor at Times Now, said: “If fighting for justice invites court cases, bring it on.”
If fighting for justice invites court cases, bring it on. All the a-listers can come together but India will continue to fight for the truth. You can’t intimidate us @TimesNow & can’t take away the viewers who believe in us. Let Truth prevail. @aamir_khan @iamsrk @karanjohar
— Navika Kumar (@navikakumar) October 12, 2020
Experts say television news in India is facing a serious crisis, with debates among commentators becoming increasingly strident.
India has one of the world’s most vibrant and competitive media environments, with more than 850 news channels broadcast in multiple languages, but over the years the industry has faced a crisis of credibility.
Many powerful TV news anchors known to support prime minister Narendra Modi and his right-leaning administration often indulge in rancorous and chaotic debates in which shouting, screaming and name-calling have become common.
The media hysteria reached its height in Rajput’s case. Stories about the actor’s death sidelined other critical issues, such as India’s stalling economy, the government’s coronavirus response and growing hostilities with China over a border dispute.
The result was a surge in ratings for some TV channels.
The tables turned considerably last week when police in Mumbai accused Republic TV of rigging the rating scores system, a significant component in television channels’ advertising income.
The allegations were denied by Republic TV but led to some Indian advertisers taking unprecedented measures.
Motor giant Bajaj Auto and Parle Products, India’s biggest biscuit maker, said they were pulling advertising from news channels that endorsed toxicity and hate-mongering.
The companies did not name the channels, but the move was widely cheered on Indian social media.