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Defamation: A Civil And Criminal Wrong

Tort of defamation is a genesis of English law. Defamation denotes an assertion wherein character , honour , position and name of another individual is lowered under the outlook of wise and rational thinking members of the society. Defamation is an embodiment of both verbal and written character which subsequently aims to deteriorate the dignity of an individual by using words , pictures , gestures or any other manoeuvre.

Section 499 of Indian penal code (IPC) expounds definition of defamation as:

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

Defamation may be:

  • Civil and
  • Criminal, in nature

Forms of defamation:

English classical law classifies the following two categories of defamation:
  1. Libel and
  2. Slander
Libel: Libel is a more scathing and highly consequential disposition of defamation in view of the fact that it defames and exposes the victim to mockery, hatred, or ridicule causing permanent exploitation of the reputation of the victim and tends to injure his profession because of desistance by the right-thinking audience. It is considered grave in nature as it has more detrimental and lasting effects on one's reputation because of long persistence in human memory. Slander: Defaming someone verbally which temporarily injures his reputation amounts to slander, which is why it is also referred to as a transitory form of defamation. Libel and slander are basically distinguished by the fact that:
  • The former is actionable per se and
  • In order to prove the latter, certain damage endured is to be proved by the plaintiff or slander may not be successfully pleaded.
Case Laws:
  • DP Choudhary v. Kumari Manjulata (AIR 1997 Raj 170)
  • South Indian Railway co. v. Ramakrishna (1890)
Essentials of defamation:
  1. Statement should be absolutely defamatory.
  2. The defamatory statement should be addressed towards the plaintiff.
  3. Publication.

Section 499 of Indian penal code (IPC):
Under section 499 of Indian penal code defamation implies an offence which involves an act of making or publishing an untrue statement, false accusation, or false imputation regarding any person, either by way of words, oral communication, visual cues, or any other means with intent to harm the reputation of that person.

Defence against defamation: section 499 of IPC also talks about certain exceptions of defamation that is where making or publication of the offensive remark does not constitute defamation. Following are the exceptions of defamation:
  • Publication of imputation of truth to aid the interest of public i.e., truth that is necessary to be disclosed for public good. In several countries like: South Korea , Sweden , USA (state of Louisiana) publication of truth also amounts to defamation.
  • There are times when opinion is expressed by random individual and if the opinion is accurate and fair then it would be a complete defence (fair comment):
    • Expression of opinion about the behaviour or conduct of a public servant made in good faith in regard to their official duties or their character does not amount to defamation.
    • Publication of Expression of opinions in good faith regarding conduct of an individual connected to a public issue, along with opinions with regard to their character linked to that conduct, does not constitute defamation.
    • Report publications that veraciously produce content regarding the proceedings or outcomes of a court of justice does not result in defamation.
    • Publishing opinions in good faith regarding the merits of a legally adjudicated case or the conduct of parties, witnesses or agents involved in the case does not lead towards defamation.
    • Publication of opinion expressing the quality of a creative work that its creator has introduced to the public or opinion regarding the creator's character, which is apparent in his work, does not cause defamation.
    • Explicit criticism by a person who exhibits authority over anyone legally or via lawful contract, in reference to the performance of the other person in matters pertinent to that authority does not refer to defamation.
    • Accusing someone in terms of good faith and legal grounds who holds authorized power over the accused relevant to the subject matter of the accusation is not regarded as defamation.
    • Imputation made in good faith regarding someone's character in order to secure the interests of the claimant, another person, and public.
    • When a person in good faith conveys caution to another person, in order to benefit him or any other person, or the public in general, does not cause defamation.
Absolute privilege is a privilege which is enjoyed in parliamentary proceedings wherein false statements made maliciously are exempted from the ambit of defamation. Qualified privilege is a defense because herein defamatory statement is made without the essential ingredient which is malice. For example when defamatory statement is made against a group or a class of person then defendant cannot be held liable as naturally each member of the group cannot make a separate claim that the statement has defamed his/her character but if it has been made against a small group then defendant would be held liable i.e even if a generalized statement is directed against 2 or 3 people.

Under law tort of defamation is not also recognised as a civil wrong but it is also criminal in nature and which is why its provisions are contained in the Indian penal code in view of the fact that a good reputation does wonders whereas a bad one can be ruinous.


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