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Kerala High Court quashes defamation case against Malayala Manorama, says media has the right to publish news with necessary commentary

The Kerala High Court upheld that the press has the right to publish any news item along with its commentary unless done with a malafide intention or does not concern the public interest.

The Kerala High Court haas quashed a defamation case against the Malayala Manorama Daily filed by one R Chandrasekaran and three others over a vigilance report. The complaint was directed against the Managing Editor, Chief Editor and Publisher of the daily. The newspaper had moved the High Court after District Magistrate took cognisance of the matter.

The Kerala High Court upheld that the press has the right to publish any news item along with its commentary unless done with a malafide intention or does not concern the public interest. Justice P. Somarajan stated that such a news piece if done with ‘imputation of truth’ for the public good, will not attract defamation charges.

The Court observed that the vigilance report published by Manorama Daily mentioned the complainant as an accused in a case for which a crime was registered. It noted that the report published by the Daily was a true version of the incident. It ruled that the defamation complaint defeats the purpose of the 4th estate.

Observations made by the Kerala High Court

“The first proviso to Section 499 /PC 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 and not concerning with a matter of public interest or public good. The contemptuous nature of news item, if it is connected with the imputation of truth, which requires publication for the public goodwill not attract the offence and there shall not be any misunderstanding with respect to the requirement to attract Section 499 IPC with the first exception therein. The news item published hence will not attract the offence of defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC,” stated Justice P. Somarajan.

The Court added, “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. It would squarely come under the first exception attached to Section 499 IPC, when it is done with bonafides for the public interest.”

“The fourth estate is not expected to shy away from the matters governing public importance, but it is their solemn duty to serve the society with the news item with its pros and cons so as to bring the society more functional and vigil. The fourth estate being one of the rostrums to address and comment on each and every matter governing public interest/ public importance in a democratic society, the news item published with necessary comments, though sometimes contemptuous, may not itself amount to defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC unless the same is lacking in good faith and not concerning with a matter of public interest or public good,” the Court upheld.

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