A man’s most valuable property is his reputation and every man has the right to protect his/her reputation. In a democratic country like India, Freedom of Expression and Speech is a fundamental right with some restrictions – defamation being one of them. Defamation has been a burning issue in present time.
Section 499 of IPC states that defamation means making or publishing any untrue written or oral statement intentionally knowing that the statement would harm or degrade in the reputation of the person. It is punishable with imprisonment which may extend to 2 years or fine or both.
TYPES OF DEFAMATION
Defamation is of two types – Libel and Slander
Libel means a defamatory statement which is made in a permanent and visible form such as writing, printing or through pictures. Libel is actionable in itself and providing proof is not needed as the written statement is itself a proof of damage.
Slander on the other hand means making defamatory statement orally or via spoken words or by audible and visible gestures. It is actionable only on proof of damage.
EXCEPTIONS OF DEFAMATION
- Truth for the public good – Information which is true and for the benefit of the public.
- A fair criticism of public servants – Act, where the public servant is criticized for discharging any of his duties or his code of conduct, is wrong.
- Fair conduct of public men other than a public servant – Fair Expression of views on the conduct of any other person who discharges any kind of public functions.
- Report of proceedings of a court of justice – Proceedings of court or result of any case published.
- Comment on cases – Publication of information regarding the case or conduct of any person involved in the case.
- Literary criticism – Any person with good faith expresses an opinion on performance or character of an author.
- Censure by one in authority – If anyone passes censure on the conduct of the other person providing that person applying censure may have lawful authority.
- Complaint to authority – Accusation of a complaint on the other person providing that the person making the complaint shall have lawful authority.
- Imputation of Protection of Interest – Accusations made on another person in order to protect his or other’s interest.
- Caution in good faith – If caution is made for the good of that person or for the public good.
ELEMENTS OF DEFAMATION
- The statement should be made – Statement can be made orally by words or visible gestures and by written statement intended to be read.
- The statement must refer to the plaintiff – The defamatory statement made to the person shall be expressed or implied. Name of the plaintiff shall not be necessarily mentioned.
T.V., Ramasubha Iyer v. A.M.A Mohindeen – the court held that the defendant was liable for publishing a statement which mentioned that a person carrying business of agarbathis to Ceylon has been arrested for the offence of smuggling. The plaintiff also carried a similar business; the statement damaged the reputation of the plaintiff.
- The statement must be defamatory – The most important essential of the offence is that the statement must be defamatory and untrue.
Ram Jethmalani v. Subramanian Swamy – the court held Dr. Swamy Liable for defaming Mr. Jethmalani by saying that he received money from an organization which was banned to protect the then CM of Tamil Nadu in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
- The intention of the doer – The person making the statement must know that the statement published will damage the reputation of another person.
- The statement should be false – The statement published should be forced because the truth is a defence to defamation. The law does not punish anyone publishing the truth.
- The statement must be published – Publication of statement to a third person other than the person being defamed makes the person liable for the offence.
Mahendra Ram v. Harnandan prasad – the court held the defendant liable for sending a defamatory letter in Urdu to the plaintiff knowing that he did not know Urdu and would consult a third person to read out the letter.
- Statement must cause injury – The statement made should in some way harm or injure the plaintiff.
BURDEN OF PROVING DEFAMATION
The liability to prove the statement made is defamatory and untrue lies upon the plaintiff. The plaintiff has to prove that the statement was made and that the statement shall be published, or heard by a person other than the person being defamed. The statement made should be false and untrue and must cause injury to the person being defamed. He/she has to prove that the statement made is referred to him/her.
Defamation laws serve the purpose of protecting the reputation of the citizens from false statements. Defamation laws allow the defamed victims to sue the ones who defame their reputation intentionally and misuse the right of Freedom of speech and expression.[i]
This article is authored by Gayathri Rajagopal, Second-Year, B.A. LL.B student at FIMT College, GGSIP University, New Delhi
Also Read – What Do You Mean By Defamation?