Himalayan Blunder on Defamation Should Make Corporate India Rethink
Last week, Himalaya Wellness Corporation (Himalaya) filed a defamation suit against Cyriac Abby Philips, a hepatologist for his scathing public comments on Liv52, Himalaya’s flagship brand launched in 1955. The company obtained an ex-parte injunction leading to the suspension (in India) of @theliverdr, the X-account (formerly Twitter) of Dr Philips, where he had published a thread excoriating the ‘science’ behind this formulation.
 
 
This led to an explosion of support for the doctor and ended up amplifying his message and hurting the brand far beyond what the Twitter thread could ever have done. Screenshots of the Twitter thread went viral, the legal action spawned dozens of news reports and literally millions of people, including Liv52 customers who would never heard about @theliverdr, were suddenly, informed as well as concerned.
 
 
Livelaw.in, which first reported the legal action, wrote, “Himalaya has alleged that Dr Philip’s claims are false and unjustified.” The company also claimed it has ‘lost substantial business’ due to the allegations by Dr Philips. It also alleged that the doctor, in running down Liv52, acted on behalf of well-known pharmaceutical companies—some media articles have specifically named Cipla and Alkem.
 
Dr Philips is known for his criticism of all alternative streams of medicine on X. He holds the view that herbal medicines, which do not go through a scientific testing process, often cause actual harm to people.
 
As for Himalaya, Dr Philips told Business Today, "Every post that I have made on Himalaya or Himalaya’s products showcases the lack of scientific evidence, the lack of regulation, the lack of standardisation, and the presence of adulteration and contamination of products that have harmed liver patients." Dr Philips has apparently done a study on the harm caused by products, such as Liv52, which is currently being peer-reviewed.
 
The Boomerang Effect
The ex-parte order of the Bengaluru civil court was intended to ‘minimise damage caused to the company’ until the next hearing, which is scheduled for 5 January 2024. What happened was exactly the opposite. The action against Dr Philips and his views, which he stands by, have been widely reported, especially by the digital media. The court order, too, has come in for stinging criticism from lawyers and jurists.
 
Importantly, @liverdr, who used to attract a fair mix of supporters and critics when he ruthlessly denounced ayurveda, siddha and homeopathy as pseudo-sciences, is now a hero, and people have even rallied around to raise funds for his legal defence and to offer free legal help. On the other hand, Himalaya, better known as a popular brand for creams, lotions, shampoos and baby products (in addition to its ayurvedic remedies), is suddenly viewed with suspicion.
 
While the injunction bars the doctor from tweeting or saying anything defamatory against Himalaya, it has not stopped him from defending his action, giving the issue more publicity. Dr Philips also claims that it is he who is defamed by Himalaya’s allegation that he was acting at the behest of some pharma companies.
 
PR Landmines
Like most big corporates today, Himalaya is no stranger to social and digital media and uses celebrity podcasts, blogs and other tools to promote itself. What could have prompted its ill-advised action in this case? A little homework would have revealed that Dr Philips would not have been intimidated. In the past, the Kerala State Medical Council had threatened to sue him for debunking the virtues of Giloy, which is touted as a wonder drug for many ailments. But he was able to stand his ground in that case as well.
 
Perhaps the problem is that large companies have become so used to dictating the narrative about themselves that they have begun to believe that they run perfect organisations. They ‘manage’ traditional media (print and television) through their fat advertising budgets. They have also harnessed the benefits of social media to get their message across—faster, cheaper and more credible—with the use of artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools which allow them to target specific audiences based on the demographics of different platforms. Add in the paid influencers and storytellers to the mix, and they manage to create a steady flow of interesting and positive narratives about themselves and their leaders. At the same time, any criticism or negative views are often countered with savage personal attacks against the writers, using those very tools.
 
In the circumstances, filing defamation cases to shut down criticism, instead of countering it effectively, ought to be the last resort for companies, but corporate India continues to hire lawyers and file defamation suits to silence critics on social media without any attempt to differentiate between paid-hit jobs and genuine criticism of a fact-based comment.
 
Misuse of Defamation Law
Legal experts will tell you how the judicial response to defamation should balance freedom of expression, public interest and right to reputation along with damage caused before arriving at a decision, but ex-parte orders are routinely issued in favour of powerful entities (companies, educational institutions, hospitals, or any entity with deep pockets).
 
However, sometimes, such coercive action can boomerang. It happened with the National Stock Exchange’s (NSE) Rs100 crore defamation case against Moneylife in 2015. Not only did NSE fail to get an injunction, it was ordered to pay costs of Rs50 lakh. Importantly, the case finally triggered a detailed investigation into the co-location (Colo) scam by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and NSE eventually paid the costs ordered by the court and withdrew its appeal against the initial court order (NSE withdraws its Rs100 crore defamation suit against Moneylife, pays Rs50 lakh as cost and penalty). SEBI’s investigation also led to a complete administrative shake-up with at least two former managing directors and the exchange itself being indicated by the regulator (Read: Absolute Power).
 
Unfortunately, no lessons were learnt because cases such as this one or the public reaction to the liver doctor’s case are outliers. Companies continue to use defamation as a tool because the legal system invariably works in favour of those with money power.
 
A legal notice threatening defamation is often enough to silence small publications, bloggers and social media influencers. If a defamation case is actually filed, the brief to lawyers is to work at ensuring an ex-parte order or at least an ad-interim injunction silencing the writer. When this happens, the process itself is the punishment because the cause of action is usually forgotten or irrelevant when the case is finally decided after many years of repeated adjournments. Often, the writer remains silenced and is bled by a thousand cuts in terms of legal costs since very few are fortunate enough to afford top lawyers to get help on a pro bono basis. 
 
An interesting new threat, unknown until recently, is to have a court ‘take cognisance’ of a defamation claim without actually filing a case. While the law and the jurisprudence on defamation may list many checks & balances, what happens on the ground is a different story.
 
Those who have used frivolous or bogus defamation in far-away courts are not merely those like Prof Arindam Chaudhuri of IIPM but also much-venerated groups such as the Tatas. We ourselves are fighting an alleged defamation filed by Tata Motors against an article by Gautam Sen, written for Moneylife, about its passenger car business. Gautam Sen is a leading automotive journalist and automotive design consultant based in Paris. He also had the credit of having launched India’s first car magazine, Indian Auto in 1986, followed by Auto India, Auto Motor & Sports and BBC’s Top Gear. He has authored several books and has covered the group extensively in over 35 years in the profession. But nothing mattered. 
 
Like in the liver doctor’s case, an ex-parte injunction was obtained from a lower court in Kolkata, and the case continues to drag. In our view, the charges are so weak that we initially thought it was a hoax and wrote to the group to inform them, only to realise that it was a planned action.
 
Another example is the Rs100 crore defamation suit filed by ITC Ltd against Manu Rishi Gupta, portfolio manager and chief executive officer (CEO) of MRG Capital Partners. The case, filed in response to his blog titled, "Magic, illusion or just trickery - The story of ITC", has made no progress since July 2021, although he filed his reply in December 2021, which only shows that ITC was more concerned with gagging the person rather than protecting its reputation. 
 
The lawsuit against Dr Philips is another worrying example of how companies use their financial resources to silence criticism, even when they may be raising legitimate concerns.
 
Note: The discussion in this column is not about whether or not Dr Philip is correct, but about the strategy used to counter him. The writer is a regular user of alternate medicines and has benefitted from them. Her father was a doctor and an MD and Moneylife regularly reports on issues with modern medicine as well.
 
 
Comments
prembajaj
7 months ago
There is a problem with the product. I had written to corporate office (with degradation images and manufacturing batch nos). They responded with detailed letter on the tests carried out on the specific batches (including samples they maintain) and clarified no problem with the batch nor the tablets. But problems remain same including the complimentary bottle sent by them as a replacement of earlier bottle with increased number of degraded tablets. The problem exacerbates in high humidity - causing the regular Liv52 to go moist and discolor, and the Liv52 DS to break across the lateral side, exposing the inner contents (note: I use a pill box with weekly fill ups - but doesn't affect other tablets/capsules as does with Liv52 types)
ypitalwalla
8 months ago
In our legal system if you are innocent, the process is the punishment as the person who has made false allegations will simply not show up in court and give excuses and prolong the matter and keep you the innocent person as a guilty party out on bail like a common criminal or wear down your savings in lawyers fees.
drhari18
8 months ago
The only registration in medical council is MBBS for him. and nothing else. Even though he had some certificate courses. He has only registration as per graduation certificate
Srikanth N
8 months ago
He was awarded the Gold Medal for Academic Excellence in Hepatology by the honourable President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee during the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences Convocation and Foundation Day Ceremony held on 14th of January, 2016 at New Delhi and has won the prestigious American Association for Study of Liver Disease Award consecutively in the year 2015, 2016 and 2017 and was given Honorary Trainee Membership to The American Association for Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) at San Francisco, November 2015.
munshi.ccrum
Replied to Srikanth N comment 8 months ago
He has done his MBBS on payment seat and he never qualified the exams for achieving the degree
arun.kumar.saha
Replied to munshi.ccrum comment 8 months ago
How exactly did you know all these? Without any evidence your comment appears like scandalous.
nandakumarms
8 months ago
Anyone bashing traditional medicines get allodrug cartel support and become hero!
NakaMaru_TingTong
8 months ago
What about wrong Alopathic treatment administered to patients by alopathic practioners during covid times ? What about harm caused to people's health due to steroids and drugs like favipiravir ? was there any scientific evidence of their efficacy when these medicines were promoted and admisnistered to covid patients? Still these medicines were given to patients, and doctors/ hospitals made huge money. And now these alopathic doctors are calling alternative medicines as pseudo science and regulators are not saying anything.

The reason behind this is simple. White people ruled us for 150 years and we still have that inferiority complex or slave mentality. So we think whatever prescribed by westeners/ white people is gospel truth and anything related to ancient india is of inferior quality.

1) In my opinion, each state govt in India should set up separate commission to investigate the death occured in hopitals during covid times and allow people to make representation before it and if allopathic doctors found guilty if wrong treatment then they should be forced to disgorged the fees charged along with interest.

2) If that's not possible then govt should slap "sin tax" with retrospective effect on corporate hospitals for super normal profits earned during 2020 and 2021
saran2sai
Replied to NakaMaru_TingTong comment 8 months ago
Everything true. If traditional medicine is not complete or not effective then allopathy creates a new disease from drugs taken for one disease.
Good will
8 months ago
Himalaya is a good company and there is a lot of research on Ayurveda. Some random guy should not be able to cavalierly destroy value.
gurjartanay
Replied to Good will comment 8 months ago
Dear Goodwill, what is stopping Himalaya to respond to criticism by citing this research of Liv52 and giving fitting reply to critics? Has Himalaya been gagged by Dr Philip?
Good will
Replied to gurjartanay comment 8 months ago
I’m sure they will. He just seems to have a loud voice and screams a lot. Recently he trashed papaya leaf juice for dengue - there is a lot of evidence that it works. Please consult the Ayurveda Institute as I did.
raichuradilip
Replied to Good will comment 8 months ago
Dr Phillip is not a random guy. he is a reputed very well qualified professional Doctor specialist in hepatology.
saran2sai
Replied to raichuradilip comment 8 months ago
We are returning to oppression like East India Co. All these conflicts are part of chronic oppressive religious fundamentalism against India.
Good will
Replied to raichuradilip comment 8 months ago
If you want to ruin your health with allopathic medicines, as he pushes, be my guest. Diclofenac the pain killer he was pushing on Barkha’s show has horrible side effects.
Has awful side effects.
suketu
Replied to Good will comment 8 months ago
isnt it true lot of ayurvedic medicines have high metal content?
munshi.ccrum
Replied to suketu comment 8 months ago
Ayurvedic medicine having heavy metal content is manufecturing defect as manufecturers adultrate the drugs. If you take classical medicine of Ayurveda you will never find any contamination. Even individual herbs prove so beneficial.
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