The Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court recently ruled that media has the right to report on registration of first information reports (FIRs) and on cases filed in courts and defamation action cannot lie on the basis of such reports [Vijay Darda & Anr. v. Ravindra Gupta].
Justice Vinay Joshi stressed on the freedom of press and the importance of the information media provides, while quashing a defamation case against owners of a daily newspaper.
“It is common knowledge that in daily newspapers at least some space is devoted to the news about the registration of crimes, filing of cases in Courts, the progress of the investigation, arrest of persons, etc. It constitutes news events which public has the right to know,” the Court stated.
Calling accurate reportage on registration of cases as defamatory would amount to restricting reporting on investigations to only the final outcome depriving the right of the public to know the happenings.
The Court emphasized in its 21-page order that the primary function of the press is to provide correct information and allowing defamation cases against media for publishing true reports, would be unhealthy in a democratic setup.
“In other words, the freedom of making a true report regarding the affairs which are in the public domain is a right, which flows from the freedom of speech. The action of defamation about true and faithful reporting is unhealthy for a democratic setup,” the Court held.
It further said that filing defamation complaints on such news items is nothing but an attempt to stifle the reporters and informants with an attempt to force them to withdraw the report filed against the persons who are allegedly defamed.
The Court also highlighted the power of the press to impress upon minds of people and hence it was essential that good care is taken by the person responsible for publishing anything in the newspaper.
“Publication of news on rumour or on hear-say information having no iota of truth is fatal to a Journalist,” the Court underscored.
The Bench was hearing a petition by Vijay Darda, Chairman and Rajendra Darda, Editor-in-Chief of Lokmat Media Pvt. Ltd. (applicants) who sought quashing of criminal proceedings initiated against them by a Magistrate Court on a defamation complaint.
The publication pertained to the registration of crime against the complainant and his family members which the complainant alleged was false and defamatory as the publishers had not verified facts before publishing the news.
It noted at the outset that there had been no incorrect or ‘colourable’ reportage.
Further, the Court noted that the applicants were not concerned with the news that was published, and there was another editor named in the paper who was, however, not an accused in the FIR.
Hence, it held that the the offence of defamation claimed by the complainant had not been made out against the applicants.
“The responsibility of the editor is to publish true facts and nothing else. The complaint of defamation alleges that the truthfulness of the contents of FIR are not verified. The publisher is not expected to investigate the matter and ascertain the truthfulness of the FIR before publishing the news item. The liability and responsibility of the editor are restricted to a limited extent therefore, the contention in that regard is not acceptable,” the Court held while quashing the criminal proceedings against the applicants.
Advocates Firdos Mirza and Nitin Lambat appeared for applicants and complainant respectively.