Kerala HC: It is duty of press to comment on news to enlighten public

The court quashed defamation case against newspaper as it was done in good faith and in interest of public good even if it was contemptuous in nature


The Kerala High Court has quashed a case of defamation against the editor of Malayala Manorama while observing that contemptuous nature of the news item, if it is connected with imputation of truth, which requires publication for the public good will not attract the offence of defamation under the Indian Penal Code.

The Managing Editor, Chief Editor and Printer of Daily Newspaper Malayala Manorama had filed the petition to quash a private complaint filed against them filed under section 500 of IPC. The section 499 of the IPC gives a detailed definition of the offence of defamation:

Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person. 

There are a few exceptions to this definition as well; the first exception states, “Imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published.—It is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person, if it be for the public good that the imputation should be made or published. Whether or not it is for the public good is a question of fact”.

The single judge bench of Justice P. Somarajan, in the order dated November 13, observed that the news item in question reported the true version of an enquiry report submitted by the Vigilance Department recommending criminal action against the complainant.

The court held that this case comes under the first exception under section 499 of IPC (mentioned above),

It is the duty of the fourth estate to publish all news materials, especially having public importance and it is their further duty to comment on the news material with its pros and cons so as to enlighten the society to remain vigil on the matters of public importance…The fourth estate is not expected to shy away from the matters governing public importance, but it is their solemn duty to serve the society with the news item with its pros and cons so as to bring the society more functional and vigil.

The court further commented that the press “being one of the rostrums to address and comment on each and every matter governing public interest/ public importance in a democratic society, the news item published with necessary comments, though sometimes contemptuous, may not itself amount to a defamation”, unless it is lacking good faith and does not concern with public good.

The court also held, “The contemptuous nature of news item, if it is connected with imputation of truth, which requires publication for the public good will not attract the offence and there shall not be any misunderstanding with respect to the requirement to attract Section 499 IPC with the first exception therein.”

The court thus found that the publishing of the news item does not amount to defamation. The court noted that the complainant was in fact booked on criminal charges basis the enquiry report that was published in the news item and the complaint was filed only to “defeat the solemn function vested with the fourth estate and it will tell upon what is behind it” and deemed it as “abuse of process of court”. The proceedings were hence, quashed.

The order may be read here.


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