Source: begers & co lawyers
“Your reputation is your brand. It is one of the most valuable assets. It takes a thousand good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad moment to lose it.”- Benjamin Franklin
Defamation refers to any statement, either oral or written, made by a person involving injury of one’s reputation caused by a malicious statement of fact. If the defamatory statement is written and published via any medium, then it is “libel” and if such a statement is spoken, then it is a “slander”. However, truthful statements cannot create liability for defamation even if they harm a person’s reputation.
History of defamation can be traced back to the Roman and German law where abusive chants were subjected to capital punishments in Roman. Insult to a person’s reputation was punished by cutting out the tongue of the offender in early English and German cultures. In the late 18th century, in England, imputation of crime or social disorder or attacking the integrity of an individual’s professional competence added up to slander. The enactment of Slander of Women Act also included accusation of unchastity unlawful. If looked at the French defamation laws, they were far more severe. Both in France and Italy any libellous information in newspaper was harshly punishable criminally and seldom only truth was allowed as a defence or excuse when the publication related to public persons.
DEFEMATION LAW IN INDIA
In India, defamation is treated as an offence under civil as well as the criminal law. In civil law, defamation is punishable under the Law of Torts by imposing damages on the offender which are to be awarded to the claimant. Under the Criminal law, defamation is considered as non-heinous, bailable, non-cognizable offence and compoundable offence. Therefore, according to the Indian Penal Code, the offender in cases of defamation attracts only a punishment of simple imprisonment up to two years, or with fine, or both.
DEFEMATION Vs. FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees various freedoms to its citizens of India. However, Article 19(2) imposes reasonable restriction to freedom of speech and expression promised under Article 19(1)(a). The question now arises is whether liability created by defamation is a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression? The right to reputation comes in the ambit of Article 21 which grants its citizens the right to life and liberty.
In the case of Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India (1), a petition regarding the decriminalization of defamation was filed challenging constitutional validity of Section 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 places an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression. The Supreme Court held that criminal defamation under Section 499 and 500 did not violate the article in question. The word ‘defamation’ in includes both civil and criminal defamation.