Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh High Court: Sanjay Dhar, J., quashed a defamation complaint filed against the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, Arnab Goswami, and journalist Aditya Raj Kaul. The Bench observed,
“The accused/anchors have only stated the obvious. Anyone who possesses even elementary knowledge of who is who of Jammu and Kashmir, can name the Minister who was holding portfolio of works during the period referred to in the letter of Shri Khalid Jahangir.”
Naeem Akhter, senior member of the J&K People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had filed the defamation complaint against the petitioner alleging that a defamatory and malicious news segment was broadcasted by the petitioners on 04-07-2021, pertaining to a letter written by one Khalid Jahangir, member of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) to the Governor, levelling allegations of corruption and favouritism on the complainant as regards award of tenders and functioning of the Corporation.
According to the complainant, even though the letter did not make a mention of name of any person, yet the petitioners, while reporting, deliberately and intentionally mentioned the name of complainant, thereby, publishing direct imputations against him with a mala fide intention to cause irreparable damage to the reputation of the complainant.
The Bench observed that it was not in dispute that the complainant was holding the portfolio of Works Minister in the coalition Government of PDP and BJP when Mr. Khalid wrote a letter to the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. The Bench opined though, the letter did not name the Works Minister, who was at the helm of affairs at the relevant time, the dates to which reference was made in the letter clearly suggested that the Works Minister, referred to in the letter, was none other than the complainant. Therefore, the accused had only stated the obvious. Hence, merely because accused/anchors mentioned the name of the respondent in the programme may not be enough to impute mens rea to the petitioners that they wanted to harm the reputation of the respondent.
The Bench stated that the fact the reporters kept emphasizing the fact that their source of information was the letter in question and they go on repeatedly telling the viewers about the charges/allegations with each caption carrying question mark(?), thereby conveying to the viewers that the allegations/charges contained in the letter are yet to be established, the petitioners had while telecasting the programme, taken due care that was expected of a responsible news channel.
Accordingly, the Bench held that the ingredients of main Section 499 RPC were not made out from the contents of the complaint and the material attached thereto because the imputations which had been published by the channel of the petitioners had not originated from them but the originator of these imputations was someone else i.e., Mr. Khalid Jahangir who had written a letter containing allegations against the respondent to the Governor which found its way into public domain. Thus, the complaint and the proceedings emanating there from were quashed. [Aditya Raj Kaul v. Naeem Akhter, CRMC No.58 of 2019, decided on 13-10-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.
For the Petitioner: R. A. Jan, Sr. Advocate, with M/S: Rajat Pradhan &, Aswad Attar Advocates
For the Respondent: Jahangir Iqbal Ganai, Sr. Adv. with Humaira Shafi, Advocate