Victory For Freedom Of Speech: Madras HC Quashes 28 Defamation Cases Against Media

The court said that the public servants and constitutional functionaries should be able to accept criticism since they owe a solemn duty to the people.

Tamil Nadu   |   22 May 2020 12:03 PM GMT / Updated : 2020-05-22T17:36:25+05:30
Writer : Navya Singh | Editor : Prateek Gautam | Creatives : Abhishek M
Victory For Freedom Of Speech: Madras HC Quashes 28 Defamation Cases Against Media

The Madras High Court on Thursday, May 21, repealed 28 criminal defamation proceedings filed against media organisations by the former Jayalalithaa government. "Public servants and constitutional functionaries cannot be allowed to misuse the law to settle political scores with adversaries," the court said, quashing the cases.

The remark came while the court was hearing petitions filed by the media houses to quash the proceedings against them for news reports published between 2011-'13, Live Law reported.

Petitions were filed by several media houses including, The Hindu, The Times of India, Dinakaran, Dinamalar, Tamil Murasu and Murasoli.

While hearing the petitions, Justice Abdul Quddhose said public servants, constitutional functionaries should be able to accept criticism since they owe a solemn duty to the people.

"The state cannot use criminal defamation cases to throttle democracy," the court stated. "The role of any newspaper is only to disseminate the news that is happening around. You cannot treat it as defamation even if there are some inaccuracies in the report. Criminal defamation is much more than that i.e the imputation must be made recklessly with malice."

The court, in its 152-page judgement, said that the states cannot be "impulsive" to launch prosecution. "If the state becomes an impulsive prosecutor in criminal defamation matters, that too, in an era of social media where there are scores of abusive contents made against public figures, the sessions court will get clogged with innumerable matters which are sometimes vindictive in nature only to settle scores with Opposition political parties," it stated.

The judge also suggested the public prosecutors to use their mind independently, conduct a case fairly and to remember that "prosecution does not mean persecution".

The court said that states must act like a parent of all citizens before invoking the law of defamation.

"It is normal for some parents to face vituperative insults from their children," it added. "Despite those insults, parents don't disown their children quite easily. They always have the hope that their children will mend themselves in the near future. Only in rarest of rare cases when the character and behaviour of their children is irretrievably broken down and irreconcilable, the parents disown them."

The Madras High Court on May 6, had repealed a criminal defamation case filed against journalist Sandhya Ravishankar and her husband Prem Shankar by VV Minerals, a beach sand mining firm.

"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," Justice GR Swaminathan had observed then.

Also Read: Supreme Court Refuses To Quash FIRs Against Journalist Arnab Goswami, Rejects Plea Seeking CBI Probe

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