The most valuable thing which a person possesses is his reputation and everyone is entitled to shield his reputation. Defamation is recognized as a right in rem (a right good against all persons in the world). A man’s reputation is his property. The objective of law of defamation is to protect one’s reputation, honor, integrity, character and dignity in the society. A person aggrieved may file a criminal prosecution as well as a civil suit for damages for defamation.
According to Black’s law dictionary , defamation means any offence which can harm a person’s fame, reputation or character by the use of any malicious statement. There are two types of defamation, first one is libel and another is slander. The statement which is made in written form and that is published is said to be libel.
Defamation is intentional false communication, act of publication of defamatory content, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation, or induces disparaging, hostile or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.
The right to take legal action for defamation is restricted to a period of one year. Defamatory statements can be made as libel or as slander:
Libel: the publication of a false and defamatory statement to injure the reputation of another person without lawful justification or excuse. The statement must be in a printed form, e.g. writing, printing, pictures, statue, etc.
Slander: A false and defamatory statement by spoken words and/or gestures tending to injure the reputation of others.
Essential Ingredients of Defamation:
Regardless of whether a defamation action is framed in libel or slander, the plaintiff must always prove the following:
- That the words, pictures, gestures, etc. are defamatory.
- That the plaintiff must show that they refer to him.
- That they were maliciously published.
Publication means making the defamatory matter known to some other 3rd party and unless the content is published – made available to someone other than the claimant, there can no defamation.
The injury to the reputation attaches criminal liability under IPC and civil liability under law of torts. But under certain conditions, the tort of defamation will not be there. The conditions mentioned below:-
- Truth- Truth is good justification to free oneself from liability. But the position is different in the case of criminal and civil law. Under criminal law, the mere fact that the statement is true is no defence but in the case of civil law merely the fact that the statement is true is a good defence.
- Fair Comment-
- The statement made must be of public interest.
- The statement must be an expression of opinion rather than assertion of fact.
- The comment should not be malicious but it should be fair.
- Qualified Privilege- Under this defence, the defendant has to prove that statement made should be made on a privilege occasion without any kind of malice.
- Absolute Privilege- No statement is defamatory despite the fact that it is made with a malicious intent. These are moments of state communication, parliamentary privileges, and judicial proceedings.
The defamation law is very crucial in shielding the reputation of any person who is a person of good character as right to freedom of speech and expression is not an arbitrary and absolute right. Reputation is the most important possession which a person owns and breach of the same will attach liability to protect the integrity of the person concerned in the society.