Defamation is an offence as defined under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Any person, either by words spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation about any person with an intention to harm the reputation of such person, is said to defame that person.
Any act may amount to defamation if made to impute anything to a deceased person, if such imputation would harm the reputation of that person if he was alive. An act may amount to defamation if made an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such. An imputation in the form of an alternative or expressed ironically, may amount to defamation. Further, no imputation is said to harm a person’s reputation, unless such imputation directly or indirectly, in the estimation of others, lowers the moral or intellectual character or character in respect of his caste of that person or lowers the credit of that person, or causes to be believed that the person is loathsome or disgraceful. Any statement so made can either be oral or written. Written defamation, printed or typed material or images is called libel and spoken defamation is called slander.
Following are the defences available in case of defamation. a) Justification by truth. If a statement so made is factual and authentic, it does not constitute defamation. However, the burden of proof is on the defendant who is claiming the defence, b) Fair and Bonafide comments- No fair statement is defamatory which is made in the matter of public interest. Any fair and honest opinion on a matter of public interest is a defence against the allegation of defamation. c) Absolute privilege- any statement made during judicial proceedings, by government officials or by legislators during debates in parliament or political speeches in parliamentary proceedings, communication between spouses are exempt from purview of defamation.
Defamation is a civil as well as a criminal wrong. As per the Indian Penal Code, defamation is an offense under section 499 and is punishable as per section 500. Any person who defames another and found guilty of such offense shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend upto two years or fine or both. Also, any person aggrieved by defamation can file a civil suit for damages under the law of tort.
The following acts do not amount to defamation. Any statement or attribution of truth made for public good. Any opinion made in good faith with respect to conduct of a public servant in discharge of his duties. Any opinion made in good faith with respect to conduct of any person which related to public question. Any publication of report of proceedings of the court or result if any such court proceedings. An opinion made in good faith regarding the merits of any civil or criminal case which has been decided by any Court or conduct of any person as a party, witness to that case and no further. An opinion made in good faith about the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgement of the public or about the author. Censure passed in good faith by a person having authority over another, either conferred by law or arising out of lawful contract, with regards to conduct of that person. Any accusation made by, in good faith against any person, any person who has lawful authority over that person with regards to subject matter of that accusation. Any statement made about a person’s character if made to protect the interests of the person making it, or other person, or for public good. Any caution conveyed in good faith to one person against another, when such caution is intended for the good of person to whom it is conveyed or some other person or for public good.