The criminal offence of defamation under Section 499 Indian Penal Code is committed when a person makes a defamatory imputation which, as explained in Mohd. Abdulla Khan v. Prakash K., (2018) 1 SCC 615, is as under:
“To constitute an offence of defamation it requires a person to make some imputation concerning other person;
- Such imputation must be made either
- With intention, or
- Knowledge, or
- Having a reason to believe
that such an imputation will the reputation of the person against whom the imputation is made.
- Imputation could be, by
- Words, either spoken or written, or
- By making signs, or
- Visible representations
- Imputation could be either made or published.
The difference between making of an imputation and publishing the same is:
If ‘X’ tells ‘Y’ that ‘Y’ is a criminal–‘X’ makes an imputation. If ‘X’ tells ‘Z’ that ‘Y’ is a criminal—‘X’ publishes the imputation.
The essence of publication in the context of Section 499 is the communication of defamatory imputation to persons other than the persons against whom the imputation is made. A publication, on the other hand, is made when the imputation is communicated to persons other than the persons about whom the defamatory imputation is conveyed. A person, who makes the defamatory imputation, could also publish the imputation and thus could be the maker and the publisher of a defamatory imputation. On the other hand, a person may be liable though he may not have made the statement but he publishes it. Google India Private Ltd. v. Visaka Industries, (2020) 4 SCC 162.
A news item has the potentiality of bringing doomsday for an individual. The Editor controls the selection of the matter that is published. Therefore, he has to keep a careful eye on the selection. Blue-pencilling of news articles by anyone other than the Editor is not welcome in a democratic polity. Editors have to take responsibility of everything they publish and to maintain the integrity of published record. It is apt to remind the answer of the Editor of “The Scotsman”, a Scottish Newspaper. When asked what it was like to run a national newspaper, the Editor answered “Run a newspaper! I run a country”. It may be an exaggeration but it does reflect the well-known fact that it can cause far-reaching consequences in an individual and country’s life.
From the scheme of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 it is evident that it is the Editor who controls the selection of the matter that is published in a newspaper. Further, every copy of the newspaper is required to contain the names of the owner and the Editor and once the name of the Editor is shown, he shall be held responsible in any civil and criminal proceeding. Further, in view of the interpretation clause, the presumption would be that he was the person who controlled the selection of the matter that was published in the newspaper. The presumption under Section 7 of the Act is a rebuttable presumption and it would be deemed a sufficient evidence unless the contrary is proved. It was held in K.M. Mathew v. K.A. Abraham, (2002) 6 SCC 670 as under:
“The provisions contained in the Act clearly go to show that there could be a presumption against the Editor whose name is printed in the newspaper to the effect that he is the Editor of such publication and that he is responsible for selecting the matter for publication. Though, a similar presumption cannot be drawn against the Chief Editor, Resident Editor or Managing Editor, nevertheless, the complainant can still allege and prove that they had knowledge and they were responsible for the publication of the defamatory news item. Even the presumption under Section 7 is a rebuttable presumption and the same could be proved otherwise. That by itself indicates that somebody other than Editor can also be held responsible for selecting the matter for publication in a newspaper.”Gambhirsinh R. Dekare v. FalgunbhaiChimanbhai Patel, (2013) 3 SCC 697.