Journalists Are Not Liable For Defamation For Bringing Facts To The Public And Commenting On These Facts: Goan Court Dismisses Sanatan Sanstha’s Suit
A Senior Civil Judge in Ponda, Goa, has dismissed Sanatan Sanstha’s defamation suit against weekly Goan Observer for an article entitled ‘Protecting Hinduism-Sanatan Sanstha’ published in the week of June 28-July 4, 2008.
Observations made by the Sanstha are significant considering that members of the Sanstha have been accused of the murders of Gauri Lankesh, rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare.
The Sanstha had filed a civil suit against the editor, owner, publisher and the printer of weekly Goan Observer. The plaintiffs alleged that the said the article “created suspicion in the minds of the followers and has shaken the faith of the seekers. That it has insulted the work done by thousands of selfless seekers”.
The plaintiffs sought Rs. 1 crore as the cost for damages with 12 per cent interest per annum from the date of filing the suit till the date of payment of cost.
It was argued on behalf of the defendants that the article was based on a book published by the Sanstha called “Swarakshan Prashikshan”. The said book had pictures of self-defence training with the use of trishul and guns, the defendants said.
The defendants denied that the article has defamed the plaintiffs or it had created suspicion in the minds of the followers and has shaken the faith of the seekers. They sought the suit to be dismissed.
The court noted that the Managing Trustee of Sanatan Sanstha, Virendra Marathe, had deposed that the said pictures published in the article of people with trishuls and guns training in self-defence have indeed been taken from the Sanstha’s book.
After looking at all the relevant facts, Senior Civil Judge Anil Scaria observed:
“Journalists are ordinary people and they are expected to judge things through the eyes of an ordinary man. When an ordinary man sees pictures of this type he becomes apprehensive. It is the duty of the journalist to bring these facts to the notice of the public in public interest. Bringing these facts to the notice of the public and commenting thereon as an ordinary prudent man would, will not amount to defamation.
In our country people have a right to assemble peacefully and without arms. Bearing arms is an exception. A person can possess arm only under licence. Ordinarily such licences are given to individuals and not to groups.
Sovereignty is closely associated with military and police powers. It vests in the nation and its governments. Private armed regiments raise apprehension in the minds of citizens and it is a duty of a journalist to bring to public notice. Any comments made by the way would not give rise to damages.”
Judge Scaria further noted-
“In a democratic society, initiation of every debate through the public media should not be dragged to court. The aggrieved party should use the same media to present its point of view. Ultimately, it is the people who has to decide.”
The court made sharp observations against the Sanstha and the material published by them:“Before concluding it is necessary to mention that the publications of the plaintiff are of such nature that it creates apprehension in the minds of people. If such publications are avoided apprehension would not arise. Some of the pictures in the magazine are in bad taste. If such pictures are avoided, litigation may not arise.”
Thus, the suit was dismissed.