He Cannot Be Held Liable For Acts Of Author Of Article: SC While Quashing Defamation Case Against Former India Today Chief Editor
The Supreme Court has quashed the defamation case registered against former India Today Chief Editor Aroon Purie. The case relates to a news article that was published in India Today Magazine in 2007.
The bench of Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice Bela M. Trivedi noted that considering the assertions and allegations made in the complaint, nothing specific has been attributed to Aroon Purie.
"…if we consider the assertions and allegations made in the complaint, we find that nothing specific has been attributed to A-1, Editor-in-Chief. He cannot, therefore, be held liable for the acts committed by the author of the Article, namely, A-2. The allegations made in the complaint completely fall short of making out any case against A-1.", the bench observed.
A news item titled 'Mission Misconduct' was published in the news magazine INDIA TODAY stating that in a string of embarrassments for the foreign office, three Indian Officials posted in the Indian High Commission at UK had to be recalled in quick succession following serious allegations of sexual misconduct, corruption in issuance of visas and sale of Indian passports to illegal immigrants.
The Article also mentioned that the allegations were levelled against an officer of the Indian Foreign Service posted in UK for soliciting sexual favours from a local employee.
The Article further stated that said officer, now back in India, was facing disciplinary action and when contacted said official denied the charges.
In the meantime, a complaint was filed by the said officer against various persons including Aroon Purie and other accused.
It was submitted inter alia that the Article was defamatory and as such the accused be proceeded against for having committed offences punishable under various sections including Sections 34, 120 B, 405, 468, 470, 471, 499, 501 and 502 of the Indian Penal Code, 18602.
Being aggrieved by the summoning order passed by the lower court, A-1, Editor in Chief of INDIA TODAY news magazine, A-2, the author of the Article and public servants from the Ministry of External Affairs approached the High Court seeking quashing of the summoning order as well as Complaint filed by the officer in question.
The petitions came to be dismissed by the High Court.
Feeling aggrieved, the petitioners approached Supreme Court.
Senior Advocate K.V. Viswanathan appeared for Aroon Purie, Additional Solicitor General of India Aishwarya Bhati appeared for public servants, namely; A-3, A-4 and A-8 and Advocate Hrishikesh Baruah, appeared for A-2, the author of the article. The submissions on behalf of said officer i.e., the original complainant were advanced by Advocate R. Sathish.
The Court while observing the decision made in Rajendra Kumar Sitaram Pande vs. Uttam noted that "…in a given case, if the facts so justify, the benefit of an exception to Section 499 of the IPC has been extended and it is not taken to be a rigid principle that the benefit of exception can only be afforded at the stage of trial."
The Court further observed that "If the allegations are sufficient and specific, no benefit can be extended to such Chief Editor or Editor-in-Chief. Conversely, it would logically follow that if there are no specific and sufficient allegations, the matter would stand reinforced by reason of the fact that no presumption can be invoked against such Chief Editor or Editor-in-Chief."
Thus the Court noted that nothing specific has been attributed to A-1, Editor-in-Chief, therefore, he cannot, therefore, be held liable for the acts committed by the author of the Article.
With regard to the role ascribed to A-2, the Court observed that his case stood on a different footing. The Court held that whether what he did was an act which was justified or not would be a question of fact to be gone into only at the stage of trial.
Thus the Court accepted the appeals insofar as A-1 and the public servants (A-3, A-4 and A-8) are concerned and set aside the summoning order, as well as, quashed the Complaint lodged against them.
The Court rejected the appeal preferred by A-2.
Cause Title- Aroon Purie v. State of NCT of Delhi & Ors.