Defamation law in india

                                             

An individual’s reputation is very important him. It is the way society looks at him and respects him and also accepts him to be a part of society. Without a good reputation an individual will often be banished or not accepted by society and will have to lead a life of shame and deal with the constant judgmental gaze of the society. 

But what happens if someone deliberately tries to tarnish another person’s reputation, what the consequences will the offender face and what remedies are available to the victim? 

Defamation, 

 “Any type of deliberate false communication, either written or spoken, that can harm a person’s reputation or decreases the respect, regard or confidence of a person; or induces disparaging, or a hostile or disagreeable opinion or feeling against a person is known as defamation.” 

Defamation can be written or oral. 

Defamation falls under Tort Law

Written defamation is known as Libel whereas spoken defamation is known as Slander  

In order to be termed as defamation the statement must be defamatory, the statement must refer to the plaintiff and the statement must be published to one or more than one person’s other than the claimant. 

An important question arises that is if one has freedom of speech then how can they be accused of defamation.? 

The question that arises is whether liability arising out of defamation is a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression. As we know that there is no specific fundamental right to privacy, the judicial interpretation includes it as a dimension of the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. So, the right to reputation also comes in the ambit of Article 21. 

Article 19 of the Constitution grants various freedoms to its citizens. However, Article 19(2) has imposed reasonable exemption to freedom of speech and expression granted under Article 19(1)(a). Contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence are some exceptions.  

Chintaman Rao Vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh: The Supreme Court explained the meaning of “reasonable restrictions” imposed in Article 19 (2). It implies intelligent care and deliberation and that is required in the interests of the public. 

Civil defamation and Criminal defamation

Civil defamation means that the statement made must be false and monetary compensation can be claimed from the defendant for the defamation. 

Criminal defamation means the allegation should be made with malice intent to defame another or at least the knowledge that the publication is likely to defame another is essential. It has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the act was being done to lower the reputation of another. 

Persons who make defamatory statements are exempted from punishments if they fall in one of the ten exceptions provided in Section 499. They are: – 

  1. Attribution of any truth made for public good. Truth is seldom defense unless made for a public good. 
  1. Any opinion made in good faith regarding the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public functions. 
  1. Any opinion made in good faith respecting the conduct of any person which relates to a public question. 
  1. Publication of true reports of the proceedings of the Courts or the result of the proceedings is not a defamation. 
  1. Any opinion made in good faith regarding the merits of any civil or criminal case decided by the Court of Justice, or the conduct of any person as a party, witness or agent to that case and no further. 
  1. Opinions made about the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgement of the public, or about the author is not defamation if made in good faith. 
  1. Censures passed by persons neither having authority over another either conferred by a law or from a lawful contract in good faith is nor defamation. Censure is formal statement of severe disapproval. 
  1. Accusation of offence to any person having lawful authority over the alleged person in good faith is an exception to defamation. Complaints about servants to masters and children to parents are examples to the exception. 
  1. Statements made about the character are not defamation if it is made in order to protect the interests of the person making it, or any other person, or for the public good. 
  1. Cautions conveyed to one person against another are not defamation if it is intended for the good of the conveyed person, or any other, or for public good. 

Absolute Privilege, 

Certain speeches made by Government Officials, Parliament members, Judges of Courts are immune from liability arising out of defamation. 

Justification by Truth, 

Truth is an absolute defence but the burden of proof lies on the defendant. 

Section 500 of the Code punishes defamation if it does not fall within the above said exceptions with simple imprisonment which may extend to two years, or fine, or both. The Indian Penal Code punishes printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory or sale of such printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter about any person in the same manner of punishing defamation. 

Nowadays it is very common and easy to defame someone online, the defamatory content can be spread and be made viral in a very short span of time through social media and other communication platforms, therefore making it essential to make such acts punishable under law. 

Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India is a landmark judgement regarding internet defamation. It held unconstitutional the Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which punishes for sending offensive messages through communication services. 

References 

https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-2224-defamation-law-in-india.html

https://lexlife.in/2020/05/03//defamation-law-in-india

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