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Media’s ‘duty to publish news, comment’ — HC quashes defamation case against Malayala Manorama

Kerala HC was hearing a petition demanding quashing of a defamation suit filed against Malayala Manorama by one R. Chandrasekharan and three others in 2016.

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Mumbai: The Kerala High Court has emphasised on the right of the press to publish all news items along with its commentary, unless done with malafide intention, while quashing defamation proceedings against leading news daily Malayala Manorama.

“It is the duty of the fourth estate to publish all news materials, especially having public importance and it is their further duty to comment on the news material with its pros and cons so as to enlighten the society to remain vigil on the matters of public importance,” a bench of Justice P. Somarajan said Friday.

The court was hearing a defamation suit filed against the managing editor, the chief editor and the printer and publisher of Malayala Manorama by one R. Chandrasekharan and three others in 2016 for a story based on a vigilance report.

According to the complainants, the news report had referred to them as accused persons even before the crime was registered.

The court, however, said contents of the news item was the true version of the inquiry report and that the crime was subsequently registered against the complainants.

Also read: SC issues notice to UP govt on Kerala journalist’s arrest but says plea could be sent to HC

‘Has right to publish news unless done with malafide intention’

The high court also observed that news items published with necessary commentary may not itself amount to defamation unless it is lacking in good faith.

“The fourth estate being one of the rostrums to address and comment on each and every matters governing public interest/ public importance in a democratic society, the news item published with necessary comments, though sometimes contemptuous, may not itself amount to a defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC, unless same is lacking in good faith and not concerning with a matter of public interest or public good.”

It added, “The first proviso to Section 499 IPC has got a wide canvass in a democratic system and right to publish a news item with its necessary comments and views though sometimes contemptuous, cannot be defeated unless malafides writ large on its face.”

Section 499 mentions 10 exceptions against allegations of defamation. The first exception, which the high court referred to, states that it would not be defamation if the information in question is true, and needs to be published for “public good”.

The court set aside the complaint, calling it “an abuse of process of court”. “The private complaint submitted is really intended to defeat the solemn function vested with the fourth estate and it will tell upon what is behind it,” it observed.

Also read: Kerala HC rejects anticipatory bail pleas of IAS officer Sivasankar in gold smuggling case


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