Defamation

Defamation refers to the injury caused by the person over others on his reputation. It is an action considered as a great evil. Reputation is often considered as a most valuable property of a man, which he never wants to lose, therefore publication of any defamatory statement about a person may result in cases that are equal to the unlawful interference of one’s property. Everyone is having the right to freedom of speech but that right doesn’t include publishing wrong and a defamatory statement against others.

Defamation types

It can be of two types

Libel

Where libel refers to writing, publishing, or printing any defamatory statement against any person.

 Slander

When any wrongful defamatory statement is published in a transit form i.e. orally then that kind of defamation can be termed as slanderous defamation.

D.P. Choudhary Vs Manjulata A.I.R. 1997 Raj. 170, in this case, the plaintiff-respondent was a 17-year-old college student. There was a publication in the local news report of daily, Dainik Navjyoti, dated 18/12/77 that she ran away with a boy namely Kamlesh at 11 a.m.after she went out of the house by saying she was having lectures. The news item so published was wrong and was published negligently. She was shocked and was having bad effects on her known one and marriage prospects. It was therefore held that the words so published were defamatory and were actionable per se. she has entitled with an award Rs. 10000/- by way of general damages.

Essentials for Defamation

1. The statement must be defamatory:

Defamation applies to the disclosure of a statement which tends to lower the reputation of a person in the eyes of the right-thinking members of society or which tends to make them avoid that person.

Example

Whereby the ill will of Municipal Council and without any justification served a warrant to practicing advocate and seized his furniture and books, then the act of Municipal Council would lead to defamation of that advocate.

S.N.M. Abdi vs. Prafulla Kumar Mohanta A.I.R. 2002 Gauhati 75, in this case, the article was published in Illustrated Weekly of India, made certain declarations for the wrongful use of man and muscle power by the then Chief Minister of Assam, Prafulla Kumar Mohanta. The article so published was considered defamatory and the plaintiff was awarded damages up to Rs. 5,00,000/-.

The statement is defamatory or not depends upon the right-minded members of society. By the term, Right-minded members of society refer to those members who are of fair average intelligence. If according to them the statement so published, injures the reputation of the other then that statement would be considered defamatory.

2. It must refer to the plaintiff:

For showing defamation, it is on the plaintiff to show that the statement so published refers to him and hurts his reputation. It is thus immaterial that the defendant did not intend to defame the plaintiff if it is proven that the defamatory statement intended to him.

It is to be noted that for holding the defendant liable for defamation, the intention is not necessary. Mere publishing of defamatory statement against someone which is also true but while publishing if it negligently refers to someone else then also the defendant could be held liable for defamation of others.

Newstead Vs. London Express Newspapers Ltd.(1939) 4 All E.R. 391: (1940) 1 K.B. 377, in this case, defendants published an article that “Harold Newstead, a Camberwell man” has been convicted for bigamy. The statement was true but it was about Newstead Camberwell barman. The action for the same was bought by another Newstead, a Camberwell barber. It was held that as the words were considered to be understood as referring to the plaintiff, therefore the defendant was held liable for defamation.

3. It should be published:

For making someone liable for defamation it is necessary that the statement so made should be communicated to other people other than the person referred. As defamation is an injury to the reputation of the person and therefore until it is communicated to someone else there can be no case of defamation. If the defamatory statement so made only to the person in presence of on one then there can’t be any defamation, the statement made in such a language that can only be understood by the person so defamed then also no case for defamation lies. Thus, in short, it can be said that where there is a reasonable chance of the defamed statement can be heard or seen by others, other than the person so defamed then only the person can be made liable for defamation.  

Mahendra Ram vs. Harnandan PrasadA.I.R. 1958 Pat. 445, in this case, the publication was made of a defamatory statement written in Urdu to the plaintiff by the way of the written letter. The plaintiff did not know Urdu and therefore needs another person to read it. It was held that the defendant can’t be made liable until it is proven that the defendant knew that the plaintiff is unaware of the Urdu language and would need someone else to read it.

Defenses for Defamation:

1. Justification or Truth:

The defendant can’t be held answerable if the statement so published is true. Therefore, if he in case the statement is published against someone, which is true then it can be a good defense for the defendant to run out of liability. It is so because the law doesn’t permit someone to recover damages for the injury of reputation which he either does not or ought to have possessed. However, even if there is some statement that is true but there are certain minor changes that have been done then also there can be no liability for the defendant.

However, if the defendant is not able to prove that the statement published is true then he can be liable for defamation.

Radheshyam Tiwari vs. Eknath A.I.R. 1985 Bom. 285, in this case, the defendant who was an editor, publisher, and printer of a newspaper published some article about the plaintiff who was Block Development officer, stating that he has issued false certificates, accepted bribe and adopted corrupt means in various ways. Therefore, the plaintiff filed an action for defamation, it was held that the defendant failed to prove his statement was true and therefore he was liable for defamation.

2. Fair Comment:

In defense of defamation if the statement so made is fair comment and is if public interest then it can serve as a good defense to the defendant. Fair comment constitutes that there should be a comment, the comment so made should be fair, and it should be in the public interest. There should be comment refers to the condition where the publication made should be like comment and not based on facts. Facts can save the defendant from liability only if it is justified is proved.

Comments based upon untrue facts can never be said as the true comment. As because the statement made out of those comments which are not justified then the comment so made will also fail as its base out of which such comment is untrue. Like where in the newspaper publication is made putting allegations over the plaintiff, for which the defendant fails to prove that the comment made on such untrue fact will also not be fair. The matter so published must be for the benefit of public interest, i.e. the comments must be based on like courts, public administration, etc.

3. Privilege:

There are certain occasions where it is considered that the right to freedom of speech should overweight the right to reputation. That is even if some wrongful or defamatory statement is being spoken, then also under certain circumstances person won’t be held liable for it.

Such occasions include any statement made by a member of either house of Parliament, publication by or under either authority of House of Parliament, any comment made about judges, counsel or anyone else which is relevant to the ongoing proceedings, etc, can get exempted from the defamation proceeding. However, any statement made irrelevant to the proceeding even if it is made during the proceeding then also the defendant would be made liable for defamation.

Author: Shubham siwach

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