Read order: Dr R Krishnamurthy and Anr vs. The City Public Prosecutor

Pankaj Bajpai

Chennai, July 27, 2021: While quashing a 2016 defamation case against Tamil daily Dinamalar, the Madras High Court has cautioned that publishers must giver respect to political leaders of the country or state while printing and publishing news related to them.

While directing the petitioner newspaper to refrain from printing matters over former Tamil Nadu CM J. Jayalalitha in a disrespectful manner, the Single Bench of Justice Bhavani Subbaroyan recorded his dissent over the manner in which former the leader was addressed in the Dinamalar article in question as simply J. 

The High Court made these observations while allowing a plea to quash the defamation proceedings initiated against Dinamalar citing Section 500 and Section 199 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which provides a special procedure for initiating prosecution proceedings for the defamation of a public servant.

“The allegations based on which the criminal complaint does not in any way touch upon the conduct of the aggrieved person in discharge of her public function. The allegation even if taken as it is, only can be construed as a personal defamation. Therefore, the complaint that was filed by the City Public Prosecutor cannot be maintained since it does not satisfy the requirements of Section 199(2) of CrPC,” the Bench ruled. 

“It is seen that this complaint is pending from the year 2016 onwards without any progress. No useful purpose will be served by keeping this complaint pending,” opined the Bench. 

The High Court further noted that in order to maintain prosecution u/s 199(2) of CrPC, the allegations must directly touch upon the conduct of the concerned public servant in the discharge of his or her public functions.

If the defamatory statement is personal in nature, the special procedure will not apply and it is only the concerned person who has to file the complaint in his or her individual capacity, explained the Court.

The State had asserted that the media outlet had made wild allegations against the former Chief Minister, now deceased, and defamed her in the eyes of the general public. The State also added that the outlet could not make defamatory and derogatory allegations in the name of freedom of the press. 

Justice Subbaroyan however, agreed with the petitioners that the allegations in question did not touch upon the late Chief Minister’s public functions and that the case could only be one of personal defamation.

The High Court, therefore, proceeded to quash the proceedings against Dinamalar’s publisher, who was the second petitioner in the matter, as the first petitioner has already died during the course of the hearing. 

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