Delhi Court Rules Press Must Exercise Caution in Publishing Defamatory Material

A Delhi Court has recently emphasized the importance of responsible journalism, stating that the press should not exceed the boundaries of fair comment. The court ruled that the press must refrain from publishing anything that is clearly defamatory towards individuals or institutions unless it is verified and supported by sufficient evidence, with the intention of serving the public good.

Additional District Judge Ravinder Bedi of Karkardooma Courts highlighted the universal recognition of ethical standards in journalism, cautioning against defamatory writing. He stated that the press should adhere to general norms, including refraining from publishing manifestly defamatory content without verification, unless there are substantial reasons to believe in its truthfulness and the publication will benefit the public. The court also clarified that truth alone cannot be used as a defense for publishing derogatory or defamatory material about private citizens, especially when there is no public interest involved.

While acknowledging the press’s role as a custodian of public interest, the court emphasized the need for irrefutable evidence and thorough verification when reporting on cases of corruption and irregularities in public bodies. It stressed that such material should only be published after due inquiry, verification from relevant sources, and obtaining the perspective of the person or authority being commented upon.

The court made these observations while hearing a suit filed in 2016 by Atma Ram, a former Superintendent Engineer of Delhi Development Authority, against the editor of a fortnightly newspaper called “Tahirpur Times.” Ram claimed that the newspaper had falsely accused him of purchasing agricultural land with bribed money in a report titled “Garg ka tabadala rukwane mein adhikshan abhiyanta Atma Ram ka haath.”

Ram argued that the publication had made defamatory imputations against him without any proof or verification of the facts. He sought damages of Rs. 19,50,000, alleging that the defamatory news item had adversely affected his credit and reputation among society, friends, and associates.

After examining the evidence, the court concluded that the news snippet was grossly defamatory and had been recklessly published without justification. It ruled in favor of Ram, granting him a recovery decree of Rs. 1,00,000, with an additional 8% annual interest until the amount is paid. The court also awarded costs of the suit.

The judge emphasized that every individual has the right to protect their reputation, and if their reputation is damaged by wrongful publication, they have legal remedies available. The court stated that individuals can choose to either sue for damages or prosecute defaming media persons.

The court further noted that the language used in the article against Ram clearly demonstrated its defamatory nature. The article repeatedly referred to him as a “corrupt person” who had accumulated multiple properties through ill-gotten money obtained through corrupt means.

The ruling serves as a reminder to the press to exercise caution and adhere to ethical standards when reporting on individuals and institutions. It highlights the importance of responsible journalism and the potential legal consequences of publishing defamatory material.

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