The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court observed that the truth is not a defence for publishing a defamatory material against a private citizen where no public interest is involved.

The Court held thus in a petition seeking quashing of proceedings and complaint filed by a person against the Owner, Editor, and Publisher of a Daily News Paper for the offences punishable under Sections 499, 500, 501, and 502 of the RPC (Ranbir Penal Code) and an order passed by the Judicial Magistrate.

A Single Bench of Justice Vinod Chatterji Koul observed, “The press must refrain from publishing contents in the newspaper that are manifestly defamatory in nature against an individual. The content published should be duly verified and there should be sufficient reason to believe that it is true and serves the public good. Truth is no defence for publishing defamatory material against a private citizen where no public interest is involved. Furthermore, the press has the right to expose cases of corruption and irregularities in public bodies as a custodian of public interest but such reporting should be based on irrefutable evidence, published after due inquiry and verification from the concerned sources and should include the version of the person or authority being commented upon.”

Advocate Ajay Sharma appeared for the petitioner while Advocate Anil Sethi appeared for the respondent.

Facts of the Case -

The respondent/complainant i.e., the aforesaid owner of the newspaper had filed a complaint under RPC against the petitioner person named Pritam Chand in which he alleged that he remained a highly decorated, honest, and brave officer and had earned impeccable respect in the society and was respected by police force, people of the civil society, and baradari of the complainant. Pritam was deliberately and maliciously carrying out false, scandalous, and defamatory news items against the complainant in his newspaper. He was also carrying out malicious campaign to cause damage to his reputation.

The name and goodwill enjoyed by the complainant in the society was extensively damaged because of the news items carried by Pritam in his newspaper. Such newspaper had a very thin publication but he had made it a point to distribute in the close circle of the complainant on each day when the newspaper carried malicious items against him. All this was done with the intention to harm the reputation of the complainant. The Trial Court taking into consideration such allegations and the documents attached with the complaint, took cognizance and issued process against Pritam.

The High Court after hearing the contentions of the counsel noted, “The mode and manner in which the headlines were drafted of the newspaper articles clearly reflects the intention of the petitioner which was to defame the respondent. The material collected by the petitioner was not published with purely the information received but on the contrary the petitioner`s own interpretation and opinion was also mixed and published in the newspaper. This in conclusion cannot be protected as free speech protected under Article 19 of the Constitution.”

The Court further said that the allegations made against any person if found to be false, can affect his reputation and a reputation is a sort of right to enjoy the good opinion of others and it is a personal right and an injury to reputation is a personal injury, and thus, defamation is injurious to reputation.

“Reputation has been defined in dictionary as “to have a good name; the credit, honor, or character which is derived from a favourable public opinion or esteem and character by report”. Personal rights of a human being include the right of reputation”, it also noted.

The Court said that a good reputation is an element of personal security and is protected by the Constitution equally with the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty and property and hence, it has been held to be an essential component vis-à-vis right to life of a citizen under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“The above settled position of law has also been reiterated by the Supreme Court in Priti Saraf and another v. State of NCT of Delhi and another, 2021 SCC Online SC 206, and it has been said that inherent power of the High Court is an extraordinary power which has to be exercised with great care and circumspection before embarking to scrutinize a complaint/FIR/ charge-sheet in deciding whether the case is the rarest of rare cases, to scuttle the prosecution at its inception. It was also held by the Supreme Court that the grounds raised by the accused can be their defence during the course of trial and cannot be taken by the High Court to quash the criminal proceedings”, it concluded.

Accordingly, the High Court dismissed the petition and refused to quash the FIR or order of the Trial Court.

Cause Title- Pritam Chand v. Dr. Kamal Saini

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