Unlike many other countries, India has both civil defamation (if you defame someone, you have to pay compensation), and criminal defamation (you defame someone, you go to jail). Most other countries have removed criminal defamation as a crime from their law books. The result is that in India, not only does a publisher face the threat of having to pay stiff monetary penalties in case he/she defames, someone, there is the bigger threat of being imprisoned for defamation.
These two provisions put together, are increasingly being used by corporate houses to threaten journalists and bloggers from publishing uncomfortable facts. Aparajita Lath, a student of NUJS, Kolkata, was recently threatened with both civil and criminal action by Times Publishing House Ltd., and their lawyers K. Dutta and Associates for “an excellent summary of the 19 year old litigation between Financial Times Ltd. and Times of India Group over the trademark “Financial Times” & “FT”” on the blog SpicyIPIndia. According to Prof. Shamnad Basheer, owner of the Spicyip blog,
“According to the legal notice, served on Aparajita, the publication of her post, “caused an irreparable injury and loss of reputation” to Times Publishing House Ltd. The following paragraph is even better: “Pursuant to the publication of the impugned article our Client has been contacted by several persons, inquiring about the same. Our client has been questioned and subjected to contempt and ridicule and has suffered immense prejudice and loss of goodwill, reputation, standing and goodwill in the industry”. Oh my! And I guess the sky is going to fall on our heads next because of one post on this blog.The allegedly defamatory post by Aparajita can be accessed here. In the post, she carried an excellent summary of the 19 year old litigation between Financial Times Ltd. and Times of India Group over the trademark “Financial Times” & “FT”. Aparajita’s post had very carefully referenced and summarized a number of articles which appeared in the Mint about the dispute and from the information we have, theMint has not been sued as yet.”
“from Agarwal Law Associates (ALA) on 18 April concerning the pending publication of a ‘defamatory’ story on the Attorney General (AG), Goolam Vahanvati. ALA’s clients, the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG), were understandably flustered as a result of the article’s keen recording of Anil Ambani (head of ADAG) and the AG’s somewhat cosy relationship.The implication of course, was that Ambani’s ties with Vahanvati had a hand in forestalling investigation into the ownership history of Swan Telecom – Ambani’s ‘front’ company at the centre of the notorious 2G scandal…”
“The suit was filed, not in Delhi, where both the IIPM and the magazine’s publisher, Delhi Press, are based, but 2,200 km away in Silchar, Assam, 300 km from Guwahati, Assam’s capital. The IIPM filed the case at the Court of Civil Judge in Silchar district, through one Kishorendu Gupta, who operates Gupta Electrical Engineers in a Silchar suburb, and is the first plaintiff. IIPM is the second plaintiff.
In addition to The Caravan and its proprietors, the suit charges Siddhartha Deb, Penguin (the publisher of the upcoming book by Deb in which the article is a chapter), and Google India (which, the suit alleges, has been “publishing, distributing, giving coverage, circulating, blogging the defamatory, libelous and slanderous articles”).
The civil court in Silchar granted the IIPM a preliminary injunction, enjoining Delhi Press to remove the article in question from their website, ex-parte, without any pre-hearing notice.”
(Sourced from here)
“In 2005, the IIPM filed a case against Rashmi Bansal, a blogger and editor of Just Another Magazine (JAM), who published an article in print and online questioning many of the claims made by the IIPM in its brochures and advertisements, which highlighted that the IIPM had not been accredited by any Indian agency such as AICTE, UGC or under other state acts. The IIPM filed a case against Bansal from Silchar, Assam, even though she runs a small independent outfit based in Mumbai. The IIPM managed to get an ex-parte order from the court, forcing Bansal to remove the article from the website. The IIPM also filed for damages.”
(Sourced from here)
Citizens usually have good reason to believe that the threat of criminal defamation will be used by the government to muzzle the freedom of speech and expression. However, increasingly, there is reason to worry that journalists and bloggers (especially those without the resources to fight back) will face harassment from powerful corporates and business houses. This is even more worrying for a country at our stage of development, where we are welcoming private investment into numerous sectors, allotting and selling off scarce resources to attain higher growth. A free media is important to ensure such transactions and investments are fair and not marked by crony capitalism. Well considered defamation laws are essential to ensure this journalistic freedom and integrity.
For more on defamation laws in India, read this.