As per Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India 1949 as amended thereof, every Individual has the fundamental right of freedom of speech. But there is a very thin line which when crossed will turn out to be defamation as it may hinder the fundamental right of other individual(s). So the major question that arises is what is defamation? What is the limit up to which the freedom of speech can be exercised so that it is not defamation?
These questions are often asked but remain unanswered. As per the current scenario of social media any one can be made hero or can be defamed by just one video. It may be a boon for some people but it is definitely a nightmare for those who are criticized or defamed.
Defamation as per the law is damaging a good name/ reputation of someone in public. For example sting operations done by the media are often defamatory as they show the concerned person in poor light. When such operations are done for the welfare of public at large it will not be considered as defamation. As per the recent Judgment of Delhi High Court in Indian Potash Ltd. V. Media Contents and Communication Services Pvt. Ltd. 2007 in which a sting operation was done against the Petitioners wherein one of their employees was caught on a hidden camera saying that the company mixed prohibited chemicals in the milk which was supplied by them in the Western UP.
The Media Company took a stand that the intention for broadcasting this video was not to defame someone but to bring out the truth to the public as to the malpractices followed by these companies to just fill their coffers. It was further contended by the Media Company that the story cannot be termed as defamatory as it was carried in good faith and for public good and is covered and protected by First, Second, Third and Ninth exception to Section 500 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and that the defendants rely on the fair comment and truth as a defense. The thing which has to be noted was that the sting operation was not against the Company but the Individual. Strangely the Company instead of taking action against the employee filed a law suit.
It was stated by the Delhi High Court that:
“Sting operations, possible in the recent past, are an outcome of advancement in technology which permits video and audio recording, without the target person coming to know. Such sting operations occupy a place of their own and are today an important part of the society. Misdeeds are always clandestine, shrouded in secrecy and rarely proved owing to complexity of all involved therein, and with hardly any evidence. None indulging in such misdeeds admits thereto, least to journalists and media persons. The true picture is presented, by laying a trap. In the subject telecast also, the persons depicted have been recorded, by the journalists/media persons portraying themselves to be engaged in the business of milk and interested in availing services by adulterators or wanting tips therefor. The only way to bring the same in the public glare is through such sting operations which even though may not result in punishing the guilty but at least has the effect of stopping or suspending the misdeeds, even if for a short time.”
In Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Ltd. Vs. Union of India 1985), it was held that in today’s free world freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse; the press has now assumed the role of the public educator; the purpose of the press is to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic electorate cannot make responsible judgments; the authors have to be critical of the actions of the Government in order to expose its weaknesses; that such publications become an irritant or even a threat to power and the Governments naturally take recourse to suppress such publications in different ways but it is the primary duty of all the national courts to uphold the said freedom and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with it, contrary to the constitutional mandate. It was held that the Court represents the conscience of the community and exercises the power to keep alive and vital the higher values and goals towards which our society imperfectly strives.
Though the press and media are not immune/ exempted from the general law of defamation but as per the Constitution and restriction any news which is published for Public Welfare at large will not be construed as defamation.
So as per the Delhi High Court Judgment in the above mentioned case it was held that the sting operations done by the Media Reporters cannot be stated to be defamation on the grounds that the act done by them was not to cause any disgrace to the Company but it was for public knowledge and awareness regarding whether the food they are consuming is fit to be consumed or not.
So in the end we can be conclude that the information which is published by media person or any individual as long it is not with the intention of harming any person will not be considered as defamation. Defamation is a criminal offence and any person who alleges defamation must prove that there is mens rea or malafide intention in the allegation.
The Indian Lawyer
 CS (OS) No.1717/2007