Madras High Court Quashes Defamation Proceedings Against Journalist

On May 6th, the Madras High Court quashed the criminal defamation proceedings initiated against Economic Times Journalists. Explicitly, against Sandhya Ravishankar and her husband, Editor and Grievances Redressal Officer of the Economic Times. Notably, in connection to an article about illegal beach sand mining of atomic minerals; published in the 2015 issue of the ET Magazine.

The bench comprising of Justice GR Swaminathan made considerations with regard to the role of higher judiciary in “safeguarding the freedom of Press”. Justice GR Swaminathan highlighted “I am clearly of the view that there is no point in merely singing paeans to freedom of press, if one cannot go to its rescue when the said right is faced with a serious threat”.

Background

The Petitioners, Sandhya Ravishankar, and her husband published an article on a sand mining corporation. It noted that the articles in question; published after the Madras High Court issued a notice on PIL led over illegal beach sand mining. The complainant corporation stated the Petitioners by way of an article made false statements. Thereby, undermining their reputation in the public eye. Thus, causing them irreparable harm. They also stated Ravishankar’s husband earlier applied for employment in a news channel in which the Complainant had substantial stakes. Therefore she wrote the article out of hatred and malice with the complainant, for having declined to employ her husband.

Decision

The Court noted that the contents of the impugned article stood inspired by a PIL led before the High Court, alleging illicit mining of beach sand minerals. However, the same stood published only after the Court issued notices in the PIL; including to the complainant-Respondent. Later, the court relieved the petitioner in the case. However, the PIL did not get terminated or closed. Explicitly, the court upheld the Petitioners’ argument that their case fell within the third exception to Section 499 of IPC, on criminal defamation.

The Court held “The article penned by the third petitioner raised an issue in which the people at large definitely have an interest. The article has been published only in the wake of the notice issued by the Hon’ble First Bench of the Madras High Court. To elaborate, the Hon’ble First Bench thought it to issue notice based on the allegations made by a litigant and when it raised a public question, the media is certainly entitled to carry a story on it. This is something that would on the very face of it fall within Exception No.3 to Section 499 IPC“.

Consequently, the Court opined that mere inaccuracies in reporting cannot justify the initiation of prosecution for defamation. The petitioners cannot be said to defame the complainant by publishing the article in question. Adding that the very institution of the impugned complaint is an abuse of the process of the court. The Court concluded that quashing the same alone would secure the ends of justice.