Defamation and freedom of the press
“The freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend people”. Only if it is defended as a truth, a fair comment, or a privilege, and if not then it’s classified under the offense of defamation section 499 under the Indian penal code, as a man’s reputation is his property and if possible, more valuable than that. For anyone, reputation is an asset. Any harm to that asset can be dealt with legally. An injury to a person’s reputation can be further classified into slander which is a temporary injury as it is done by words or gestures and libel which is said to be a permanent injury as it is through printing.
It has become simpler and more lucrative than ever for bloggers, media, or internet users to post false information about an individual or organization. For public figures, the adverse publicity that follows defamation lawsuits may often be more detrimental than the initial false statement was. One even might not be able to win the case because there is a high threshold for proving libel or slander.
What is Defamation?
Defamation, in both civil and criminal law, is an offense. In civil law, defamation is punishable under the law of torts, by enforcing a penalty in the form of damages to be awarded to the victim. On the other hand, defamation is bailable, non-cognizable crime, and a compoundable offense under the Criminal Act. Therefore, a policeman can only make an arrest with an arrest warrant issued by a magistrate.
The Indian Penal Code punishes the crime with up to two years of imprisonment or with a fine. Many with a public profile, such as actors, famous authors, or journalists, individuals holding high positions, eminent professionals, etc. are typically leveled by defamation.
Freedom of speech and expression
Article 19 of the Indian constitution says that all citizens have a right to freedom of speech and expression which also includes freedom of the press. The Indian press has deteriorated from its rank in the press freedom index from 140 to 142 out of 180 in the recent survey of 2020. A very famous case of Dr. Shashi Tharoor vs Arnab Goswami. where the journalist Arnab Goswami was charged for defaming the congress member of parliament Dr. Shashi Tharoor for having a connection with his wife’s suicide Sunanda Pushkar without having enough material concerning the veracity of the blame he inflicted upon Dr. Tharoor.
Speaking of Arnab Goswami, the news anchor, managing director, and the editor in chief of the republic media network, who kept on grabbing the attention of the public by media bias reporting which inclined towards the Bhartiya Janata Party and Hindutva which avoided the criticism and negative portrayal of Bhartiya Janata party and doing the opposite for the opponent party. Recently, this prominent TV anchor, Mr. Goswami, was arrested for involvement in the suicide of the architect, Anvay Naik, who mentioned in his suicide note, that Mr. Goswami refused to pay the dues he owed to Anvay Naik. However, Arnab Goswami was later released on interim bail on November 11, 2020.
Some of the unavoidable situations that were highlighted, which showed the influence of government on the media and unfavorable censorships on the press which was getting more apparent after the ban on the broadcasting of the channel MediaOne TV in Delhi for covering the mob attacks on Muslims during the CAA-NCR protests which were later resumed after 48 hours and similarly prohibiting and restricting the press on reports related to the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
Furthermore, the Hathras case which was a brutal rape and murder case in Uttar Pradesh. The UP government tried to confine the matter and tried to evade it from the public. When it was surfaced on social media, the UP government denied and called it a hoax as the accused were of upper caste and the victim was a Dalit woman. To justify the circumstance, it was described by the forensics that, no evidence of seminal fluids was found inside of the victim’s body, and so said the report.
The victim’s family was locked inside of their house with constant police surveillance and no one was allowed in or out. Without considering the facts, the police straightaway jumped to the conclusion without a judgment and cremated the victim’s body without the family’s insight, at 2:30 am in the morning, with the intention of annihilating the additional evidence to prevent the ballooning of protests.
A video that later surfaced, showed administrational pressure on the victim’s family to change the statements against the accused by threatening them and telling them that they had to choose their credibility as they were to live with them and the media would not stay long.
Later Uttar Pradesh hired a concept PR, which sent out the press release stating that the victim was not raped, and it was a plot to push the Uttar Pradesh government to the caste system turmoil. Later the four men were arrested with charges of attempt to murder and attempt to rape.
Even if any journalist wants to criticize the government, he cannot as he would have to face the consequences of losing his job or worse. The government-controlled press is just a medium to control the thinking of the citizens. It is just a mask that covers the worst side of government and shows only the good. With the press at their fingertips, the government can just defame any individual or organization who dares to stand against them and this is not justice well-served.
The real purpose of media is to merely provide the people with truthful and reliable information rather than molding people’s perspectives by showing them one-sided or prejudiced information.
Therefore, the press should only be censored for the true defamation and the truth can never be considered as a defaming statement and the media should not be prohibited for showing the wrong side of the government because that is what true democracy is unless India is at the subtle verge of democratic distinct or slowly developing the self-censorship like Saudi Arabia and covering it by calling it a promotion of national unity and peace.
(Writer, The Legal State)