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Written by: Satyam Jain (Intern)

Edited by: Anubhav Yadav (Content Head & Developer)

In a recent judgment, the Srinagar HC quashed the defamation cases pending against several journalists in the CJM Court of Srinagar. The decision came after the Editor-in-chief of Republic TV, Mr. Arnab Ranjan Goswami and other journalists filed a petition, pleading their innocence.

The Case:

Naeem Akhtar Vs. Arnab Goswami & Ors (Original Case with the CJM)

Aditya Raj Kaul & Ors. Vs. Naeem Akhter (Petition in the J&K HC)

The Facts:

On July 4, 2018, a news show was aired on the TV channel Republic TV, which had its anchors reading out a letter written by Mr. Khalid Jahangir (BJP Member) to the Governor of J&K. The letter leveled charges of corruption and favoritism against a close aide of the Chief Minister; though not naming anyone specifically, the letter targeted Mr. Naeem Akhter (the then Works Minister of the Coalition government formed by PDP and BJP). A defamation suit was filed by Mr. Naeem Akhter in the District Court of Srinagar against Mr. Aditya Raj Kaul, Mr. Arnab Goswami and others, wherein, he claimed to be named deliberately and intentionally by the defendants. While the suit was still pending, Mr. Kaul and Mr. Goswami filed a petition in the Srinagar High Court to quash the case against them and label them innocent. Sr. Advocate R.A. Jan, appearing for the plaintiffs argued that the said charges were leveled against the Minister by Mr. Jahangir, and not by the journalists. Mr. Goswami pleaded that the show was aired pro bono with bona fide intentions. Mr. Akhter, represented by Sr. Advocate Jahangir Iqbal, alleged the Media Company has caused irreparable damage to his reputation. The Court decided the petition on October 13, 2021 in favor of the plaintiff.

The Law:

Defamation is considered both a civil wrong and a criminal act. It falls under the ambit of Law of Torts and Section 499, 500 RPC (Ranbir Penal Code).

Section 499 RPC defines Defamation as:

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, toΒ defame that person.

Section 500 RPC defines the punishment for defamation to be a term of simple imprisonment, which may extend up to two years and/or a fine.

THE JUDGMENT:

The one-judge bench of Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sanjay Dhar quashed the pending defamation case, filed by Mr. Akhter, while also deciding upon the petition, filed by Mr. Kaul and Mr. Goswami in their favor. The court stated that Mens Rea is an important element to constitute defamation, which seemed missing in the present suit. After referring to the questioned clip, the HC concluded that the channel was continuously showing headlines with a β€˜?’, and anchors repeatedly denied any confirmation to the claims made in the letter. Moreover, the hosts never named Mr. Akhter directly.

The State Court opined that, while holding such a high public office, one must be open to media criticism; the bench also observed that, reporting of allegations about official duties of a public figure does not amount to defamation. The court ruled that punishing Republic TV would be violative of their Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. Also, that would result in an unnecessary restriction on Freedom of Press, enshrined in Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution.

RELEVANT JUDICIAL PRECEDENTS:

  • Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India, (2016) 7 SCC 221

The Apex Court reiterated the relevance of Mens Rea in the constitution of the offence of Defamation u/s 499 IPC.

  • Express Newspaper (P) Ltd. V. Union of India, AIR 1958 SC 578 and Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, AIR 2020 2386 –

Supreme Court reestablished the importance of Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Press.

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