Next to his/ her life and health any person considers their reputation to be of at most importance. Anything said or done which damages their reputation cannot be tolerated and it will greatly affect his emotions. In the case of Kiran Bedi and Jinder Singh V. Committee of Inquiry[i] the court held that the right of reputation was acknowledged as an inherent personal right of every person as a part of the right of personal security.
Such statements are said to defame the person. Any such statements cannot be tolerated by the law as well. Chapter XXI of the Indian Penal Code deals with the defamation. The sections 499 to 502 deal with the definition, exceptions and punishments for defamation.
Defamation as under Section 499 must possess the following essentials:
- The making or publishing of an imputation concerning any person.
- Such imputation must be in the form of words, writing, signs and visible representation.
- Such imputation made must be false.
- The imputation made must be made with the intention of causing harming to the reputation of the person about whom such imputation was published.[ii]
Difference between libel and slander:
Defamation is of two types i.e.) Libel and Slander.
Libel is when the defamatory statement which is not true is made in writing. Any digital statements made in any mail or social media comes within the ambit of libel.
Slander is the untrue defamatory statement that has been spoken orally.
Difference between English and Indian Law:
In English law, libel is punishable in the face of it. i.e. so long as the defamation can be proved a minimum compensation can be claimed. Whereas in the case of slander, the actual material loss caused as a result of such defamatory statement has to be proved and only in special cases like sedition or blasphemy, slander is considered serious.
In Indian law, the scenario is completely different. Any distinction in between written or published defamatory content and spoken defamation ( libel and slander ) is not maintainable in the Indian Courts[iii] .The words ‘Visible representation’ in Section 499 includes any kind of defamation that could be established.
Of all the forms of reputation, publication is the most important ingredient of defamation as it spreads among large number of population and people get to hear about any published content that may be defamatory in nature. Mere uttering of any defamatory content by one person to another does not amount to defamation. Any defamatory content written by such person will amount to publication. The most wide spread of publication is newspaper. Almost every household in India reads and subscribes newspaper.
Any such publication is newspaper which is false / offensive or defamatory in nature is an offense in Section 499 and punishable under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code. Usually the publisher or the author is liable. However there are circumstances in which the editor may not have knowledge in publication of such content. In such cases, the person who may not be an editor but if found responsible for the publication of such content can be held liable.[iv]
In general, a libel in a newspaper which is circulated in huge volumes is usually considered to be a greater wrong than that of those which was circulated in smaller amounts.[v]
Under Section 7 of The Press and Regulation of Books Act, 1867, the Editor of the newspaper will be liable when any defamatory content is published in the newspaper. In the particular case[vi], the court held that any person working within the capacity of the editor, which includes the Chief Editor as well can be held liable when a defamatory content is published in his knowledge and knowingly allows in the publication of such content.
In the famous Subramanian Swami v. Union of India[vii], the court held that defamation is a reasonable restriction under Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution and hence section 499 and section 500 cannot be declared constitutionally invalid.
Freedom of press and defamation:
Under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, freedom to press has been understood to be a fundamental right through case laws. In Romesh Thapper V State of Madras[viii], the court took into consideration that the freedom of press is understood to be an essential part of the freedom of speech and expression as under Article 19(1) (a). This freedom is not absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19 (2). Press cannot make any defamatory statements against any person. However, there are certain exceptions under Section 499 which renders any statement to be not defamatory in nature.
Exceptions to defamation that applies to press:
- Statement made in good faith
- Merits of any judicial decisions
- Fair comments that are made by the media
In general media and press do not any special rights as compared to ordinary citizens. The editors of the newspaper are considered to be the agent of the public. Hence they are under the obligation to judge any information in factual manner. The defence of fair comment applies only to the opinions made by any person and not to the facts. These fair comments that are given to assertion of facts are in themselves defamatory and these comments cannot be held so only when it is proved that they are true.
Fair comments could not justify any defamatory statement which is untrue in fact. In the case of P. Ramasamy v. M. Karunanithi[ix], the Madras High Court held that the plea of fair comment would not be sustained unless facts were proved that made it reasonable to make such a suggestion.
In that case it was stated that good faith means good faith and also exercise of care and attention. Mere subjective belief of any fact cannot be considered to have acted in good faith. [x]
Remedies for defamation:
There are two kinds of defamation
1) Civil defamation and 2) Criminal defamation
Civil defamation is a tort. Though there are no established laws in India, one can file a case for civil defamation can claim compensation.
Criminal defamation is punishable under Section 500 to Section 502 of the Indian Penal Code.
1. Under Section 500 the punishment is simple imprisonment for a term which may extend for a term which may extend for a term which may extend to two years and fine or both.
2. When the defamation is caused as a result of any sale of printed material with the defamatory content then such offence shall be punished with a simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or both.[xi]
3. Printing any defamatory matter knowing to be so shall be punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years or fine or both.[xii]
Section 119 of the Criminal Procedure Code deals with the prosecution of defamation. The person whose reputation gets affected because of the defamatory statement only can give complaint.
The aggrieved party only can file a complaint under the section. When any defamatory statement has been made against any person occupying the government office such a President and Vice president of India, Government of the State or the administrator of the Union territory or any minister of union or state or union territory or any person who is occupying any office in the union or state.
The defamatory statement must be made with respect to his conduct in discharging his public duty. Such persons can file a complaint before the court that has been made by the Public Prosecutor.[xiii]
There is a massive increase in the hate speech and offensive statements made against the individuals. There are more victims to defamatory speeches and it is the hands of the legislation to frame strict laws for defamation as it affects the reputation of the people. In the Fifth Law Commission recommendations for bringing certain changes regarding stricter laws were made.
[i] AIR 1989 SC 714
[ii] Sunilakhya V. HM Jadwet AIR 1968 Cal 266
[iii] Parvathi V Mannar ( 1884) ILR 8 Mad 175
[iv] Mohammed Abdulla khan V Prakash K
[v] Gathercole V Miall (1846) 15 M & W 319, 314
[vi] K.M Mathew V. K.A Abraham& Ors. 2002 6 SCC 670
[vii] AIR 2016 SC 2728
[viii] AIR 1950 SC 124
[ix] (1970) LW 245 (Cri)
[x] PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law 13th Edition, Lexis Nexis, New Delhi, Pg- 1033-1034
[xi] Section 502 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
[xii] Section 501 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
[xiii] Section 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973