The historical origins of Defamation Laws can be traced back to Lord Macaulay who conceived the law in 1837. In 1860, the statute was later codified. The English law served as a model for defamation laws, continuing a trend that can be seen throughout colonial history. Additionally, these laws were created to defend colonial authorities and retaliate against their critics. The statute has not changed or been updated in the past 160 years, despite its colonial origins. During the Rajiv Gandhi administration, defamation laws dominated political discourse. The anti-defamation bill was intended to protect Rajiv Gandhi’s government, which had been severely harmed by the Bofors allegations, and was attempted to be introduced in July 1988.
The Defamation Act would expand the definition of defamation, shift the burden of proof from the injured party to the accused—typically a newspaper—and mandate that editors, publishers, and printers attend all court proceedings. The law also said that repeat offenders might get a five-year sentence and first-time offenders up to two years. The press attacked the law, calling it “a frontal assault on the citizen’s right to know,” after it had already been passed by the Lok Sabha and was set to be filed in the Rajya Sabha.
It is the deliberate use of defamatory or hostile language to purposefully harm another person’s reputation in the eyes of society or the group to which they belong. Libel and slander are traditionally the two types of defamation. Slander, on the other hand, refers to any and all defamatory words that are stated by an individual. Libel is made up of all those defamatory statements that are published, which might include newspaper articles, books, or even a tweet. Libel is the act of making a statement about a person public that is inaccurate and poses a risk to their reputation and/or way of life, whether it is done in writing or by broadcast on a media outlet like radio, television, or the internet. Libel is a type of civil wrong (tort), and as such, it may give rise to legal action. Libel is a form of defamation that is written, spoken, or broadcast. A person defames someone when they use their words to harm their reputation or compromise their capacity to support themselves. Both civil and criminal punishments may be imposed on libellous individuals. This is usually a good defence, but it doesn’t mean that just because someone says, “I think,” they are protected from the possibility of engaging in libellous behaviour. The offensive statement in question must appear to be factual and not opinion-based. For instance, even though it was technically phrased as a belief, the author of the words “I think Sam murdered their spouse” would nonetheless be liable for libel. The fact that they used this phrase indicates that they had a good reason to think the assertion was true.
The subject of the offensive remarks does not have to assert that they caused them injury in order for someone to be found guilty of libel. Regardless of whether they may be proven to have caused actual injury, a number of defamatory comments are deemed injurious in and of themselves. These include claims of criminal behaviour, assertions that someone has a communicable illness, accusations of sexual misconduct, and claims of unethical or illegal commercial conduct. Finally, truth is acknowledged as a complete defence against defamation claims. Depending on the jurisdiction, a defamatory remark may be believed to be false, in which case the defendant may establish an affirmative defence if they can demonstrate that it is substantially true, or the burden of proving that a supposedly defamatory statement is untrue may fall on the plaintiff. In any case, a factual comment can be shielded against accusations of defamation.
Slander and libel are the two most common ways that defamation occurs. Slander occurs when one person disparages another via spoken words, gestures, etc. Libel, on the other hand, is expressed in writing or print. Defamation is a civil as well as a criminal offence in India. Torts include civil defamation. The claimant is given damages in this case, which are typically monetary awards. Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, on the other hand, defines criminal defamation. Criminal defamation is a non-cognizable, bailable offence (police authorities cannot investigate without a warrant). Due of how less serious the offence is than others, charges may be withdrawn if the victim and accused reach an agreement.
The idea of defamation is murky and persistently controversial, being used and abused by some while having a profoundly damaging impact on the lives of others. Even while judicial precedent has attempted to untangle this muddle and address some issues, there are still some fundamental constitutional issues with both the criminal offence and the civil offence of defamation that have not yet been resolved. Defamation laws and free speech rights ought to coexist peacefully. The former and the latter shouldn’t be given up for either of them.
Shah, N., & Dharap, C. (2020). Analysis of defamation cases in India.
Chhetri, S. (2021). The Defamation in the Internet Age: Cyber Defamation. Issue 1 Int’l JL Mgmt. & Human., 4, 1981.
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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