Sahota v Middlesex Broadcasting Corporation Ltd & Ors
Reference:  EWHC 504 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Steyn J
Date of judgment: 5 Mar 2021
Summary: Defamatory meaning - Foreign language television broadcast - Whether defamatory - Whether fact or opinion
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Richard Munden (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: CND Parker for Ds
C sued for libel over a broadcast on Midlands Asian Television National of an episode of a religious discussion programme entitled ‘Gurdwara Miri Piri’. The channel was broadcast by D1. The programme consisting of a discussion, in Punjabi, between D2 and D3 of a protest for Khalistani independence outside the Indian Embassy in January 2018.
C alleged that the words bore 5 different defamatory meanings, including that he “promoted terrorism” and “fomented division, hatred and violence”. Ds disputed C’s meaning, and contended that to some extent the words were not, in their true meanings, defamatory; and contained expressions of opinion.
The parties agreed for the issues of meaning, fact/opinion and defamatory tendency of each of D2 and D3’s words to be determined at a trial of preliminary issues. C relied on various matters as reference innundo. Ds disputed these but allowed reference to be assumed for the purposes of the trial of the preliminary issues, without prejudice to their case on those issues at trial.
1) The natural and ordinary meaning of the words complained of;
2) Whether the statements were fact or opinion;
3) Whether the meaning was defamatory at common law;
4) The extent to which the meanings were conveyed by the words of D2 or D3.
1) The words complained of meant that:
i) By his protest, C deceived and misled people.
ii) C is not a true supporter of the independence of Khalistan, as he purports to be: he is a hireling whose allegiance can and has been bought. When he ran a television station, he failed to support the Khalistani cause but now he does so because he is in the pay of Lord Ahmed.
iii) Nor is he a true Sikh: no true Sikh would show such disrespect for the Sikh religion, as C did by changing the colour and shape of the Nishan Sahib from saffron and triangular to a yellow square.
iv) C, by standing with Kashmiri terrorists in London, showed his ignorance of history and the rights of Sikhs, and risked, if he did not stop, dividing the Sikh community and involving Sikhs in violence, hatred and terrorism.
v) C and his family commercialised the sale of the sacred Guru Granth Sahib.
2) The italicised words in the meaning were statements of opinion, the remainder fact.
3) Meanings (iii) and (v) were not defamatory at common law; the remainder were defamatory.
4) Each of the meanings was conveyed by the words of each of D2 and D3, save for (v) which was conveyed by D2 alone.
The Judge followed the approach to considering foreign language television programmes set out by Haddon-Cave J (as he then was) in Rahman v ARY Network Ltd & Ghafoor  EWHC 2917 (QB), noting that that inevitably means that the Court is having to avoid over-elaborate analysis whilst considering the words through the filters of first, a transcript of what was said orally, and secondly, a translation of that transcript, and so lacking the immediate impression which the words spoken would have had on the hypothetical viewer of the Programme, who would have understood Punjabi.
The Court rejected the most serious meanings contended for by C. In rejecting parts of C’s meaning, the Court referred to the comments of Nicklin J in Tinkler v Ferguson  EWHC 3563 (QB) that implied or inferred expressions of opinion have no place in a natural and ordinary meaning.