According to the law, defamation is the act of harming another’s reputation by a false publication (communication to a third party) that has the potential to bring them into disrepute. The concept is elusive, and only human creativity can create all the different variations. Defamation is an English legal invention, but similar concepts have existed for thousands of years. Abuseful chants were punishable by death under Roman law. The tongue was cut out as a penalty for insults in early English and German law. There were no additional offences until the Slander of Women Act of 1891, which made impugning unchastity unlawful. Slander was solely defined in England as the imputation of criminal or social disease and casting doubt on a person’s professional capacity. The truth could only be used as a defence when publications included public figures, according to French defamation law, which demanded the obvious retractions of libellous information in newspapers. While modern German defamation is comparable, truth is frequently accepted as a defence. In Italy, where defamation is a crime, the truth is rarely a justification.
Defamation typically requires that the publishing be untrue and done without the person being allegedly defamed’s permission. Words and images are interpreted in accordance with prevailing usage and the context of the publication. Only hurting someone’s sentiments does not constitute defamation; reputational harm is required. Although the individual who was disparaged does not need to be identified, their identity must be known. A group of people is only deemed to have been defamed if all of its members were mentioned in the publication—especially if the group was relatively small—or if specific members had been unfairly blamed.
Categories of defamation
Libel – Representation in a permanent form, e.g., writing, printing, picture, effigy or statute.
Slander – Depiction in transient form. It is basically through words spoken or gestures.
Essentials characteristics of defamation
i. The statement must be defamatory.
ii. The said statement must refer to the plaintiff.
iii. The statement must be published i.e., communicated to at least one person other than the claimant.
Defamation in Criminal Law
Injury to a person’s reputation is referred to as defamation. Both a civil and a criminal offence, defamation. Any person who feels wronged by a comment that has the potential to harm their reputation may initiate a civil lawsuit under tort law as well as a criminal complaint under the Indian Penal Code of 1860. When a criminal complaint is dropped by the prosecution, no one may stop him from filing a civil lawsuit, unless and until he is legally prohibited. Defamation is mentioned in sections 499 to 502 of the I.P.C., whereas defamation against the state is covered in sections 124-A and 153 of the code, which both deal with defamation of the community. Civil law is uncodified, while criminal law is codified. (Section 295-A) (deal with outrage religious feeling by insulting or attempt in insult). In order to avoid culpability under civil law, one only needs to demonstrate that a statement is accurate. However, under criminal law, one must also demonstrate that the statement was intended to serve the public interest.
Essentials of Defamation
(i) Imputation how made – The imputation must be made or communicated to some person other than the person about whom it is made or published, this is the essence of publication in the context of Section 499.2 The imputation could be made or communicated by: (a) words, either spoken or written; or (b) by making signs; or (c) visible representations.
(ii) Imputation must concern a particular person or persons – The imputation must be about a specific person or people whose identity can be verified. If the imputation involves a business, organisation, or group of people as a whole, it would also qualify as defamation. When a group of people is accused of defamation, the group must be clearly defined and not an undefined and untimely entity.
(iii) Intent to harm – The imputation must have been made with the intent to harm, knowing, or having grounds to believe that it will harm the reputation of the person about whom it is made. It would be sufficient for a claim of defamation if the accused knew, had cause to know, or intended that the imputation he made would damage the other person’s reputation. Mens rea is a prerequisite for the said offence to exist, so to speak. Furthermore, the other person need not really experience any harm as a result of the imputation, either directly or indirectly.
It is important to note that explanation 4 of Section 499 states that no imputation is considered to harm a person’s reputation unless it directly or indirectly lowers the moral or intellectual character; credit; or character in respect of his caste, or leads others to believe that the person’s body is in a repulsive condition or in a condition that is generally regarded as disgraceful.
Exceptions to Defamation
The first exception to defamation listed in Section 499 is “the defence of truth.” Truth must meet two requirements in order to be a viable defence in a defamation case: it must be factually accurate and it must be in the public interest. Typically, the alleged defamatory remark ceases to be disagreeable if it is based on a public document, including court records.
In addition, the term “public good” as used in this exception refers to fact rather than speculation.
(i) Public conduct of public servant;
(ii) Conduct of any person touching any public question;
(iii) Publication of reports of proceedings of courts;
(iv) Merits of the case decided in court or conduct of witnesses and others concerned;
(v) Merits of public performance;
(vi) Censure passed in good faith by person having lawful authority over another;
(vii) Accusation preferred in good faith to authorized person; and
(viii) Imputation made in good faith by person for protection of his or other’s interests.
Punishment for Defamation
According to Section 501 of the IPC, anyone who prints or engraves any matter knowing or having reason to suspect that such matter is defamatory of any person shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a time that may extend to 2 years, or with fine, or with both.
Goel, S. (2018). Law of Defamation, Newspaper Publication & Journalistic Improprieties. Newspaper Publication & Journalistic Improprieties (November 27, 2018).
Shah, N., & Dharap, C. (2020). Analysis of defamation cases in India.
Singh, J., & Zehra, Q. (2021). Defamation and the Freedom of Press. Supremo Amicus, 26, 155.
Singh, A. K. (2022). A Study on Position of Law of Defamation in India. Bayan College International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 2(2), 1-13.
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