Recently, Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on constitutional validity of criminal defamation law.
Lets try to understand the concept of defamation and then we will move on to criminal defamation and its relation with fundamental rights, which is the center-point of the debate.
Defamation means destroying the reputation of an individual or organisation through slander (speech), libel (written) or both.
Slander: To make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.
Libel: The act of publishing a false statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.
Defamation gives rise to both civil and criminal liability.
This means that the guilty may be punished with a simple imprisonment of less than 2 years arising out of criminal liability and/or he may be subjected to monetary compensation arising out of civil liability.
There are two sections under IPC, viz. Sec 499 and Sec 500, which pertains to the criminal defamation.
Sec 499: Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.
Sec 500: Punishment for defamation: Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Article 19(1)(a) confers right to freedom of speech and expression on all citizens.
Article 19(2) allows the state to make laws which impose reasonable restrictions on this right in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
There is a need to balance free speech and dignity of an individual which is possible only by retaining the criminal nature of defamation.
If Sec 499 and 500 are misused, the logical approach should be to place a regulatory mechanism to prevent that misuse, but not to withdraw them.
Published with inputs from Pushpendra