The right to freedom of speech and expression is highly respected if it is exercised in a bona fide manner and without hurting the sentiments of others. If used to defame another person, the right to freedom of speech and expression is considered an offence.
In general, defamation can be understood as an act of communicating a false statement, either orally or in writing, about a person and which injures the reputation of that person. Sections 499 to 502 of the Indian Penal Code deals with the offence of defamation.
Written defamation is known as ‘libel‘, whereas defamation made orally is known as ‘slander‘. However, under the Indian law (Indian Penal Code), no distinction is given for libel or slander.
Let us understand defamation in detail.
What Is Defamation Under Section 499 IPC
Section 499 of the IPC defines defamation. According to this section, any person who makes or publishes any false imputation or allegation relating to any person, by words either spoken or written or by signs or visible representations, is said to defame that person. However, it must be done to harm the reputation of such a person against whom the imputation has been made.
Further, any imputation or allegation made to a deceased person shall amount to defamation if it would harm that person’s reputation if he would be alive or harm the reputation of their family members. And, it may also amount to defamation if any imputation or allegation is made related to any company or an association or collection of persons.
Furthermore, this section states that an imputation or an allegation is not said to harm someone’s reputation unless it directly or indirectly lowers the moral or intellectual character of that person in the eyes of others or lowers the character of that person concerning his caste or makes everyone to believe that the body of such person is in an unpleasant state.
Illustration of Defamation
A tells B that Z’s restaurant serves rotten food, intending (aiming) B to believe it and not go to Z’s restaurant again. Here, A is guilty of defamation.
Essential Ingredients of Defamation
Section 499 obliges three essential ingredients for the offence of defamation under IPC.
- An imputation or allegation must be made to harm the person against whom it is made.
- Such an imputation or allegation must be made by:
- a) words, either spoken or written; or
- b) signs; or
- c) visible representations.
- Publishing such imputation or allegation.
Exceptions of Defamation
Along with the definition of defamation, section 499 also contains some circumstances under which the false statement made against another person do not amount to defamation. The following circumstances are exceptions to defamation:
1. Imputation of Truth Which Public Good Requires to Be Made or Published
If a true imputation or allegation is made related to a person, it does not amount to defamation. But, it must be made for the good of the public.
2. Public Conduct of a Public Servant
When any opinion is expressed in good faith respecting the conduct of the public servants in the discharge of their public functions, it does not amount to defamation.
3. Conduct of Any Person Approaching Any Public Question
When any opinion is expressed in good faith respecting the conduct of any person approaching the public question or who discharges public functions, it does not amount to defamation.
For example, the act of publicists who take part in politics or other matters related to the public in good faith does not amount to defamation.
4. Publication of Reports of Proceedings of Courts
Publishing a substantially authentic report of the proceedings of any Court of Justice or result of any such proceedings does not amount to defamation.
5. Merits of a Case Decided in Court or Conduct of Witnesses and Other Related to the Case
An unrestricted statement on the judgements of the courts, the jury’s verdict, the act of parties and witnesses is necessary. And therefore, if any opinion is expressed relating to the merits of any case decided by a court of justice or conduct of parties and witnesses does not amount to defamation.
6. Merits of Public Performance
This exception covers criticisms of the book published on literature, art, singing, etc. It is not defamation to express any opinion in good faith regarding the qualities of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgment of the public.
7. Censure Passed in Good Faith by a Person Having Lawful Authority Over Another
When a person who has authority over another person either by law or arising out of a valid contract condemns in good faith the conduct of that person, it does not amount to defamation.
8. Accusation Desired in Good Faith to Authorised Person
When a person who has lawful authority over another person accuses him, he will not be liable for defamation. However, the complaint must be bona fide.
Further, accusation in newspapers is not covered under this section.
9. Imputation Made in Good Faith by a Person for the Protection of His or Others Interests
This exception is applied when a defamatory statement is made against any person in good faith for the protection of the interest of the person who made it.
10. Caution Intended for the Good of a Person to Whom Conveyed or the Public Good
Any caution or warning conveyed in good faith from one person to another or for the good of the public does not amount to defamation.
Punishment for Defamation as Per Section 500 IPC
Punishment for the offence of defamation is contained under section 500 of the Indian Penal Code. As per this section, the punishment for defamation is simple imprisonment, the term of which may extend to two years, or fine, or both.
Here’s defamation by our second author (Nupur).
Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code defines defamation. It consists of four explanations and ten exceptions. In India, it is considered both a criminal offence as well as a civil wrong.
In Scott vs Sampson, 1882, Justice Cave defined defamation as a false statement about a man to his discredit.
Types of Defamation
What Is Libel
A written or published defamatory statement is called libel. It is found in printed media such as newspapers, magazines, social media etc.
What Is Slander
The verbally committed defamatory statement is called slander. It is found in television programmes, at various public gatherings etc.
Difference Between Libel and Slander
The differences between libel and slander are:
- Libel is defamation in permanent form, whereas slander is temporary.
- Libel shows greater deliberation and raises a suggestion of malice, whereas slander may be words uttered under sudden provocation.
- In libel, the actual publisher is not liable as he may be innocent, but in slander, the person utters the word voluntarily and must necessarily be guilty.
- Libel is always actionable per se, whereas in most cases, in slander, special damage must be shown.
It is to be noted in India, there is no distinction between libel and slander. Both libel and slander are criminal offences.
Essentials of Defamation
The offence of defamation has the following essential ingredients:
- Making or publishing an imputation.
- Imputation may be in the form of:
- words (spoken or written),
- visible representation.
- The intention behind such imputation may be to harm or to have reason to believe that it will harm the reputation of such a person.
Defamation Is a Crime (Criminal Wrong) as Well as a Civil Wrong
Defamation as a Crime
Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code penalises the offence of defamation. The section also provides the following explanations.
- Explanation 1 makes imputation to a deceased person punishable if the imputation would have hurt the deceased’s reputation and feelings of his family and relatives.
- Explanation 2 relate to the defamation of an association or collection of persons or a company.
- Explanation 3 deals with cases of defamation by innuendo. A statement innocent in the form will amount to defamation if it is ironic.
- Explanation 4 explains what is meant by forming a person’s reputation. It means imputation on a man’s character made to lower the person’s character in the estimation of others and not that of himself.
Ten Exceptions of Defamation
Section 499 provides ten exceptions to the charge of defamation as to when a statement would not attract a penalty. They are:
- Public good.
- Public conduct of the public servant.
- Conduct of any person touching any public question.
- Reports of proceeding of the court.
- Merits of a case of conduct of witnesses/parties.
- Merit of public performances.
- Bona fide censure.
- Bona fide accusation.
- Bona fide imputation.
- Conveying caution.
The exceptions strike a balance between freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and individual right to reputation.
In Thiagaraya vs Krishnaswami, 1892, the Madras High Court held that the defamatory matter, whether written on a postcard or printed on a paper, will constitute publication when it is distributed or broadcasted.
In Maulik Kotak vs State of Maharashtra, 2014, the Bombay High Court held that a defamation complaint is to be lodged by the person aggrieved and the person defamed and not by any other person.
Punishment for Defamation
Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code provides punishment for defamation. The quantum of punishment may extend to two years, whether with or without a fine.
Defamation as a Tort
Under civil law, defamation is focused on libel form. It is the publication of a statement that lowers the person’s reputation in the eyes of society.
A person can be sued to claim compensation if the following condition are satisfied:
- The statement must be defamatory.
- The statement must be referred to the plaintiff and no other.
- Such a statement must be published.
It is to be noted that defaming a dead person would not result in tort.
In DP Choudhary vs Kumari Manjulata, 1997, a local daily newspaper published a statement about Manjulata, who belonged to a distinguished family that she had eloped with a boy. Instead, she went to attend night class. She was ridiculed by others. The court held that the action was defamatory, and she was entitled to damages of Rs 10000 by way of general damages.
- Allotment of Shares Under Company Law in India - 15th November 2023
- What Is Statutory Bail in India and the Conditions to Get It? - 11th November 2023
- Bail Is a Rule, and Jail Is an Exception – Explained - 11th November 2023