This article on ‘Defamation of politicians in India’ was written by Rishabh Tyagi, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
This article deals with the Defamation of Politicians in India. It refers to the act of making false and damaging statements about a politician to harm their reputation or credibility. It can take many forms, including slander (spoken defamation) and libel (written defamation).
In India, defamation is a criminal offense under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code and can result in imprisonment and/or fines under section 500 of the same Code. The legal definition of defamation in India requires that the statement made be false and that it must harm the reputation of the person being defamed. It is not enough for the statement to be true or for the person making the statement to have believed it to be true. Politicians are often the subject of defamation due to the nature of their public roles and the intense scrutiny they face from the media and the public.
Defamation cases involving politicians in India are common and often politically motivated. Politicians may file defamation suits against their opponents to gain a strategic advantage or to protect their reputation. In some cases, journalists and media outlets have been targeted by politicians for publishing stories that are critical of them.
Forms of Defamation
Defamation can take two forms:
- Slander is spoken defamation, which occurs when a false and damaging statement is made about someone that harms their reputation. It can include rumors, false accusations, or derogatory remarks made in public.
- Libel is written defamation and involves the publication of a false and damaging statement about someone that harms their reputation. This can include articles, social media posts, or even images that portray someone in a negative light.
Both slander and libel require that the statement made be false and that it harms the reputation of the person being defamed. Defamation laws vary by country, but in most cases, the person making the defamatory statement can be held liable for damages.
Defamation in connection to fundamental rights
It can be a violation of fundamental rights, including the right to reputation, freedom of expression, and the right to privacy, and can be determined from Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The right to reputation is protected by many international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. Defamatory statements can damage a person’s reputation, which can in turn affect their ability to exercise other fundamental rights, such as the right to work, the right to a fair trial, and the right to participate in public life.
However, the right to freedom of expression is also protected under international human rights law, and it is necessary to strike a balance between the right to reputation and the right to free speech. In many countries, the law provides for defamation to be a civil or criminal offense, but there are often exceptions for statements made in the public interest or the course of legitimate debate.
Law relation to Defamation
Defamation is a criminal offense under the Indian Penal Code, of 1860. Section 499 of the IPC defines defamation as any spoken or written words or signs which harm the reputation of another person. The offense of defamation can be committed either by making a false statement about someone that harms their reputation or by publishing or circulating such statements.
Section 500 of the same code provides for the punishment for defamation, which can be imprisonment for up to two years or a fine, or both. In addition to the criminal provisions, there is also a civil remedy available for defamation under the law of torts.
Defamation in parliament
In India, members of parliament are protected by parliamentary privileges, which grant them certain immunities and freedoms in the performance of their duties. These privileges include the freedom of speech, which allows MPs to speak freely in parliament without fear of being sued for defamation.
Under Indian law, a person cannot be sued for any statement made in parliament or in any committee, report, or publication that is authorised by parliament. This immunity applies to any statement made by an MP, whether it is relevant to the proceedings of parliament or not.
However, the freedom of speech granted to MPs is not absolute, and they can still be held accountable for statements that violate other laws, such as those related to hate speech, incitement to violence, or breach of privilege. Additionally, if a statement made in the parliament is later published outside of parliament, the MP can still be sued for defamation.
The exception to defamation in politics and the rule of expunction:
In India, as in many other countries, there is an exception to defamation laws when it comes to political speech. This exception recognizes the importance of political discourse and the need for public figures to be subject to criticism and scrutiny, particularly in a democracy.
Under Indian law, a statement made in good faith about the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of their public functions is not considered defamatory. This means that statements made about the actions or behaviour of politicians or other public figures while they are performing their official duties cannot be considered defamatory, even if they are critical or damaging to their reputation.
In India, certain provisions provide for the expunction of certain types of information or records:
- One example of the expunction rule in India is found in the Indian Evidence Act, which provides for the expunction of irrelevant or inadmissible evidence. Section 136 of the Indian Evidence Act states that if any part of a witness’s statement is irrelevant, or if it is inadmissible under the provisions of the Act, then the Court may, at its discretion, strike out that part of the statement.
- Another example is found in the Criminal Procedure Code, which provides for the expunction of certain types of criminal records. Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows a person who has been acquitted of a criminal charge to apply to the Court to have their name and any other identifying information removed from the record of the case.
Leading case laws
- One of the most notable cases involving the defamation of a politician in India is the case of Subramanian Swamy vs. Union of India, which was decided by the Supreme Court of India in 2016. In this case, Subramanian Swamy, a politician, and member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of criminal defamation laws in India. Swamy argued that criminal defamation laws violated the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court rejected his arguments and upheld the constitutionality of criminal defamation laws, stating that they serve a legitimate public interest in protecting the reputation of individuals. The court also recognized the exception for political speech in defamation laws, stating that public officials and politicians are subject to greater scrutiny and criticism than private individuals. The court held that to establish defamation against a public figure, it must be shown that the statement made was made with malicious intent or with reckless disregard for the truth. The Subramanian Swamy case also established that truth is a valid defense against defamation, but the burden of proof lies with the defendant to prove the truth of their statement.
- In another notable case, the Delhi High Court in 2018 dismissed a defamation suit filed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and other Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders. Jaitley had filed the suit after Kejriwal and other AAP leaders accused him of financial irregularities during his tenure as the head of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). The court dismissed the suit because the statements made by Kejriwal and other AAP leaders were not defamatory, as they were made in the course of political discourse and were protected by the exception of political speech. The court also noted that Jaitley was a public figure and subject to greater scrutiny and criticism.
Overall, these cases demonstrate that Indian courts recognize the importance of free speech and the need to balance the right to reputation with the right to free expression, particularly in the context of political discourse. While politicians may be subject to greater scrutiny and criticism, they are not completely immune from defamation laws, and statements made with malice or that are found to be false can still be considered defamatory
In the end, defamation of politicians is a common issue in India’s political landscape, with politicians often resorting to defamation lawsuits to protect their reputations. However, this has led to concerns over freedom of speech and the ability of the press to hold politicians accountable. The judiciary plays a crucial role in striking a balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to protect one’s reputation. While the law protects false and defamatory statements, it is important to ensure that these laws are not misused to stifle dissent or criticism.
Ultimately, maintaining a healthy democracy requires a delicate balance between protecting the reputation of individuals and allowing the press and citizens to express their opinions and hold those in power accountable.
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- [TOI]. (15 February 2023). When politicians use defamation law as a weapon against criticism. Retrieved: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/when-politicians-use-defamation-law-as-a-weapon-against-criticism/articleshow/82026832.cms