Shooting messengers: Criminal defamation must go from IPC. Effective civil libel law is enough for protecting reputations

News: Recently, the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur bench has ruled that a newspaper fairly reporting information in the public domain without insinuation or innuendo cannot attract defamation charges.

What is the case on Criminal defamation?

The case involved a Marathi daily that had reported on a police FIR in 2016. The person booked in the FIR subsequently lodged a criminal defamation complaint. He claimed the newspaper hadn’t done due diligence, citing as a defence the chargesheet in the case not naming him an accused.

The court held that the registration of crimes, filing of cases in courts, the progress of investigations, and arrest of persons constitute “news events which public has the right to know”. The bench noted that a newspaper isn’t expected to investigate an FIR’s contents and verify its truthfulness but to report facts correctly.

What is Criminal defamation?
Must read: Criminal Defamation
What is a cause of worry with criminal defamation?

Firstly, claiming defamation on intent to harm reputation sets a very low and subjective bar for prosecution. For instance, The Tamil Nadu government is infamous for lodging criminal defamation cases indiscriminately against journalists.

Secondly, sometimes, multiple cases are filed in faraway places because the statute even allows offences only “partly committed” in that jurisdiction. This is punishment disguised as a process.

Read more: Criminalisation of government criticisms: Laws and issues

The British who introduced the criminal defamation has decriminalised defamation in 2009. Hence, India must shed this colonial baggage and get an effective civil libel law.

Source: The post is based on the article “Shooting messengers: Criminal defamation must go from IPC. Effective civil libel law is enough for protecting reputations” published in “The Times of India” on 28th June 2022.

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