By Aditi Varshney (Student at Asian Law College, Noida)
Can you tell how free is freedom of speech and expression in India? The freedom of speech and expression is an individual’s right under Article19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution which clearly gives the right to freely express one’s opinion, thought, belief, etc., in any mode (written, printed, verbally, etc.). However, there are reasonable restrictions to it that have been imposed under Article 19(2). Defamation is one of the exceptions. In both civil and criminal laws, it is punishable. For instance, if a celebrity posted a defamatory statement on any social media about another celebrity, then they will be liable for it. This article will focus on what is Defamation and the laws surrounding it.
Defamation is basically the publication of a false statement intentionally, which negatively affects a person’s reputation and creates a negative image in the eyes of society.
According to Winfield, Defamation is a publication of statement or statements that reflects on a person’s reputation and which tends to lower the person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally, or, which tends to make him avoid that person.
Generally, it can be referred to as damaging a person’s reputation in the eyes of others. It is basically done in two ways, Libel and Slander, where libel refers to the damage which is done permanently, for example, pictures, printing, writing in any form, etc. and slander refers to the damage which is done temporarily, for example, in the form of words, gestures, mimicry, etc.
Essentials of Defamation
- There must be a statement that has been spoken (slander) or written (libel). For example, in a film, A has been raped by B, and it is evident in the film that A is the queen, then A will receive compensation from the producer of the film for defaming her.
- The statement stated must be false, and the intent must be malicious to defame the person.
- The statement must be defamatory and must refer to the plaintiff; for example, in the movie ‘Padmavati’, it was quite evident that the person being defamed is Allaudin Khilji and queen Padmavati, then they were asked to do the changes.
- The statement must be published to lower down the person’s reputation, for example, in Mahendra Ram V. Harnandan Prasad, defended sent a defamatory letter written in Urdu language, and he knows that the plaintiff doesn’t know Urdu and need someone to read it, hence, the defendant was held liable.
Civil & Criminal Defamation
There are both Civil and Criminal offences of Defamation in India.
In Civil law, Defamation is basically which lowers the reputation of another individual, and the monetary compensation is given to the plaintiff if proven guilty in the court of law. The statement can even be libel or slander, and the third person must have read the defamatory statement. The Plaintiff can move to the High Court or Subordinate Courts for the Justice. For example, in D.P. Chaudhary v. Manjulata case, it was negligently published in the newspaper that Manjulata has run away with a boy, Kamlesh. Being a defamatory statement published negligently, the plaintiff got the compensation.
In Criminal law, a person proven guilty can be sent to jail and can even get to pay the compensation or even both for Defamation. Here the intention is necessary. The defamatory statement made should be false and have the intent to defame the other person. The statement can either be libel or slander.
Defenses & Exceptions
- Truth or Justification: It’s an absolute defense, Defamation is basically the damage done to a person’s reputation, and if it is true, then there is no defamation done. Under section 499, exception one, it is stated that truth will be a defense only if it’s made for the public good. For example, in Bishop V. Lautiar, a publication of an article headed, ‘How a lawyer treats his clients’, dealt with how a particular lawyer dealt with his clients. Still, the content was insufficient to justify the heading.
- Fair comment: the statement which has been made must be in the public interest. There must be honest criticism done. The second exception made under section 499 says about the fair criticism of public servants. For example, A plaintiff advertised in papers as a specialist in E.N.T, where the defendant commented, “a quack of the rankest species”, held that it was a comment, and the court always looks for the merit.
- The third exception deals with the publication of reports and articles on proceedings of courts, and it’s mentioned that the publication of such things will not be considered under Defamation. So, for example, proceeding of Salman Khan’s case of the car accident is going on, and someone publishes a report on it, then also they will not be held liable for it, because it is a mere truth which has been proceeded in the court of law.
- Innuendo: It generally refers to the double meaning (pun) statements which don’t mean the same as what is being stated, here the court will be interested in knowing the actual meaning of the words being said. For example, in the famous Chocolate case, Plaintiff was a famous golf player and a golf club member. The defendant company publishes his photo where the chocolate was coming out of his pocket, and the chocolate was Fry and Co. Chocolates. The golf club thought that Plaintiff infringed the rules and hence was asked to give a resign. Plaintiff sued the company. The court mentioned the Principle of innuendo and held that the real meaning was that if Plaintiff giving his consent to sell his name as a golf player, he would be terminated from the golf club; hence Defendant was held liable.
- Privilege: Here, the public interests outweigh the plaintiff’s right to his reputation.
For example, i) statements made in the parliament doesn’t amount to Defamation.
ii) communications between advocates and their clients.
iii) statements made during the duty, A reports to B about the conduct of C, then, it’s his duty to inform, there is no defamation of C done by A.
iv) statements made in self-protection; self-defense is an absolute defense.
- Opinion: This is a remedy when the defamatory statement is neither proven guilty or non-guilty.
- Time Limit: There is a defense that the lawsuit must be filed within the time limit after the incident took place. For example, one cannot be made guilty for a statement which he made two years ago against a person.
- Recently there was Shrey Singhal’s Case of Online Defamation. It was a landmark judgement of internet defamation where Section 66 A of IT Act, 2000 was criticized for the chilling effect on freedom of speech and hence punishes for sending offensive messages through social media.
- In Ram Jethmalani v. Subramanian Swamy case, Swamy said that Ram Jethmalani had got money from one of the banned organizations to protect the then CM of Tamil Nadu from the assassination case of Rajeev Gandhi. Court held that the statement was defamatory, and compensation must be rewarded for the same.
- In corporate India also there was a highlighted case between two Ambani brothers, Anil Ambani v. Mukesh Ambani, where the plaintiff sued for the compensation for damages of Rs 10,000 crore because, according to him, the defendant said some defamatory statements in the New York Times, but later the case was withdrawn after few years.
- In the Arun Jaitley v. Arvind Kejriwal case, Arvind Kejriwal and his five leaders made a defamatory statement against Arun Jaitley, where the matter was solved when the defendants apologized for their actions.
- In R.S. Lodha v. B.K. Birla Case, the plaintiff claimed that her assets had been bequeathed by the defendant, whose worth was thousands of crores in the media which tarnished her reputation, and she sued him.
- In the Priya Ramani v. M.J. Akbar case of #Metoo where the defendant won the case, and it was stated that a woman could not be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse. It was a landmark judgement in history.
Punishment for Defamation
- Under Section 500, whoever defames another shall be punished with a simple imprisonment of maximum two years or with a fine for the damage or both imprisonment and fine.
- Under Section 501, anyone who prints the defamatory statement for any reason shall be punished with simple imprisonment of a maximum of two years or with a fine for the damage or both imprisonment and fine.
- Under Section 502, anyone who sells the printed copy on which the defamatory statement is there, then the culprit shall be punished with simple imprisonment of maximum two years or with a fine for the damage or both imprisonment and fine.
Reputation is a fundamental right that is generally an asset to every individual in this society. No one will like anyone else to damage it. So, it’s important to protect it from being destroyed by someone else. Hence the Law of Defamation is introduced under the IPC (Indian Penal Court) to protect an individual’s reputation, honor and dignity in society. Defamation Laws are there so that no other individual uses their freedom of speech and expression maliciously to defame anyone in society. There are punishments under the defamation law for the culprit, and there are many such cases in India that have won under the defamation law, and the compensation is given to the plaintiff for the damage being done in the society. Basically, defamation law is a reasonable restriction on the right to freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, the defamed person can seek justice in the Court of Law under it. Nowadays, on social media also a lot of places, it is evident that the defaming is being taken place in a voice of freedom of speech and expression, but in Shreya Singhal’s case of online Defamation, it’s pretty evident that justice will be done with the plaintiff even if the Defamation is done in any of the ways.
- Defamation Law in India http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-2224-defamation-law-in-india.html
- Defamation under IPC https://lawlex.org/lex-pedia/defamation-under-indian-penal-code/25224
- Defamation in India-IPC Section 499 / 500 vs Freedom of speech https://www.clearias.com/defamation-freedom-speech/
- The Law of Defamation: Kinds, Essentials, and defenses https://www.legalbites.in/law-of-defamation-kinds-essentials-and-defences/#_ftnref2
- India Kanoon https://indiankanoon.org/browse/