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Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

What is Defamation
Defamation or taking away the fame
from someone, is an offence
punishable with imprisonment from
the earliest times of civil
Kautilyas Artha Sastra mentions it
and has prescribed punishment.
Fame or Reputation- a property
The modern law pundits have
regarded defamation as an injury to
the reputation of a person.
Reputation is considered as a
property and any damage to it can
give rise to both criminal and civil
Defamation laws in India
There is no separate law of
defamation in India.
The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has four
sections (Section 499-502) which
define elaborately what constitutes
defamation and what the defences
and punishments are.
What constitutes an offence of
Whoever by words either spoken or
intended to be read, or by signs or by
visible representation, makes or publishes
any imputation concerning any person
intending to harm, or having reason to
believe that such imputation will harm, the
reputation of such person, is said, except
in the cases hereinafter excepted, to
defame that person.
There are four explanations and 10 exceptions
Ingredients of Defamation
An imputation concerning the person
must have been made
Such imputation must have harmed, or
there is reason to believe that it has the
tendency to harm, the reputation of the
person concerning whom it is made.
Imputation means an accusation against a person
and implies an allegation of fact and not merely a
term of abuse or insult. To put it simply, imputation
means to accuse someone for committing some
irregularities with suggestion of proofs.
Kinds of Defamation
Two kinds
Verbal- slander
Written- libel

Both the offences are punishable under
the same section of IPC
Civil and Criminal action
Defamation gives rise to civil and
criminal action
The object of civil action is to
adequately compensate the person
defamed; the object of criminal
action is to punish the offender.
There is no civil action if defamation
is of the spoken word.
Civil and criminal liability
Intention is irrelevant in civil liability for
defamation. Truth of the statement is complete
defence to a civil action for defamation
In criminal law intention is essential for liability.
Good faith is a defence in criminal law. But truth
as such is no defence in criminal proceedings
except under the first exception to Sec. 499 of
IPC. It is necessary to prove further that the
defamatory publication is for the public good.
Not alternative, but cumulative
The aggrieved person can bring a
civil suit and also make a complaint
before a criminal court at the same
Journalistic Defences
Fair comment
Journalistic Defences: Justification
the statement is true. Truth of the
imputation by itself is not sufficient in a
criminal proceeding. Public good must have
been involved. But in a civil suit truth is a
complete defence.

Journalistic Defences: Fair comment
Fair comment
Fair comment on a matter of public
interest does not amount to libel. In a plea
of fair comment three points arise:
1. The comment relates to a matter of public
2. It is only a comment and not a statement
of fact
3. The comment is fair.
Journalistic Defences: Privilege

Absolute Privilege
Reports of Parliamentary proceedings and
State legislature are protected by Art 361 A
Qualified Privilege
Newspaper report of court proceedings
Publication of statements relating to affairs
of the state and reports of public meetings
are also given qualified privilege.
Journalistic Defences: Apology
No good journalist likes to tender
Therefore is the need to be careful
before publishing the report.
Good faith and Public good
Good Faith: A news story is deemed to be
done in good faith if it is done honestly
and due care has been taken in
ascertaining facts and figures.
Public Good: A news story is said to be
for public good if it has rendered or
sought to render some benefit to the
Who may file complaints?
Normally only the aggrieved person*
Or somebody on behalf of as minor, idiot,
infirm person or a woman observing
purdah, etc. Sec. 199(1)
Sec 199(2) offers an exception in the case of
dignitaries such as President, Vice-President,
Governor, Minister, and Public servants. There
is special procedure laid down in such cases
and the public prosecutor is permitted to make
a complaint.
Aggrieved person postulates that the person is or
are identifiable.
Who may be sued?
The proprietor, Editor, Author,
Publisher and Printer of a newspaper
or journal would be jointly and
separately liable for any defamatory
matter published. The aggrieved
person may sue any one of them
Liabilities of different persons
Reporter: is liable like printer, publisher,
editor, if he sends some work which is
defamatory in character.
Editor: is individually liable for any illegal
matter published in his paper, magazine,
Publisher: is liable for anything published
in his paper, magazine, etc which is
Liabilities of different persons
Printer: is individually liable for
printing of objectionable matter.
Proprietor: can be made liable for
any matter published in his paper,
magazine, etc only if there's positive
proof that he was responsible for
publishing it or for its selection for
Liabilities of different persons
Author:of an article or book, is
primarily liable for any illegality in
the work like obscenity, defamation.
Contributor: would be liable if the
article contributed by him have legal
Liabilities of different persons
News - Vendor / Bookseller: Under Civil
Law a Bookseller is not liable for
defamatory publication of material sold by
him unless he actually knew it was
defamatory, or he could have with due
diligence, come to know that it was
defamatory. Under Criminal Law IPC Sec
502, he shall be liable only if he knew
about defamatory property of the material
he sold at the time of selling it.
Time frame
Complaint should be lodged within
three years of the date of
commission of the offence.
Except where the delay has been condoned
u/s 471 of the Cr.PC
In case of dignitaries, public
servants, etc. the limitation for filing
the complaint by the Public
Prosecutor is six months.
Punishment for Defamation
Simple imprisonment for a term
which may extend to two years or
fine or both. Sec. 500
Printing (Sec. 501) and Sale (Sec.
502) of defamatory matter attract
same punishment.
Damages in a civil suit
Damages depend on the assessment
of the reputation of that person by
the judge.
Principles laid down by case laws:
Nature of imputation
Mode of publication
Social standing of the defamed person
Mitigating circumstances
Information Technology Act,
2000 - Defamation through E-
Mails will be punishable with
liability for compensation.
Threat may result in
imprisonment up to 2 years.

Further Information

Defamation in the IPC Bare act
Information Technology Act, 2000 Cyber