Ker HC | Fourth Estate is rostrum to address matters of public interest on democracy: News items published with necessary comments, though sometimes contemptuous, may not amount to defamation

Kerala High Court

Kerala High Court: P. Somarajan, J., observed that,

“…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 Managing Editor, the Chief Editor and the Printer and Publisher of a daily newspaper came up to quash the proceedings initiated on the allegation of the offence under Section 500 of Penal Code, 1860 through a private complaint on which cognizance was taken by the magistrate and process was issued under Section 204 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

The news item published was based on a report submitted by the Vigilance to set the criminal law in motion against the defacto complainant.

With reference to the news item published, it was clear that what was reported was the true version of report submitted by the Vigilance against the defacto complainant and three others after conducting a preliminary enquiry and recommended registration of crime against them.

It is true that they were referred to as accused persons in the news item, even before registration of crime in connection with the allegations.

While addressing the instant matter, Court observed that,

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.

It was further noted that,

fourth estate 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 defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC unless the same is lacking in good faith and not concerning with a matter of public interest or public good.

Section 499 IPC Proviso 1

Bench observed that the said provision has a wide canvass in a Democratic system and right to publish a news item with its necessary comments and views though sometimes contemptuous, cannot be defeated unless malafides writ large on its face and not concerning with a matter of public interest.

Contemptuous

Court observed that, Contemptuous nature of news item, if it is connected with the imputation of truth, which requires publication for the public goodwill 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.

Hence, in the instant case, news item published will not attract the offence of defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC.

Further, it was that the private complaint submitted was really intended to defeat the solemn function vested with the fourth estate and it will tell upon what is behind it. The said fact is an abuse of the process of court, liable to be quashed. [Philip Mathew v. State of Kerala, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 5105, decided on 13-11-2020]

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