Disposing of a two decade old defamation suit, the High Court of Delhi on Monday opined that public apology is a more fitting relief than monetary damages in defamation cases.
“..I may also record that in my opinion, the harm done by defamation being to the reputation of a person, a direction to issue a public apology or a direction to correct the errors, if any, particularly in defamation arising out of libel by media appears to be a more appropriate relief than a relief of monetary damages. Compensation in monetary damages can never set the record straight or restore the damaged reputation caused by a libelous news report. The person aggrieved by a libelous news report having a large circulation can never exactly know who all have had access thereto and cannot possibly go to each and every one of those persons with the judgment of award of compensation to him,” Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw observed.
“Reputation of an individual is not something which can be measured or equated in money. It is only a written apology contained in the same media which may reach the same people who may have had access to the libelous material earlier published and that alone can restore the reputation,” the Judge added.
The Court’s observations came on a defamation suit filed by Tosiba Appliances, against Japanese company Toshiba, Outlook Magazine along with its President and its Editor, and Managing Partner of Anand & Anand, Pravin Anand.
In 1997, Outlook Magazine had published an article on the business of counterfeiting well-known brands. The article had carried a photograph of Mr. Anand with a few products, one of which was labeled ‘Tosiba’. This photo was captioned “Lawyer Praveen Anand displays seized fakes”.
Around the same time, Tosiba and Toshiba were involved in trademark disputes before various fora, and Mr. Anand was representing Toshiba in one of the cases. While Outlook published a corrigendum in its magazine stating that Tosiba’s products were inadvertently shown as part of a collection of counterfeits, the latter nevertheless approached the Court, claiming that the article had caused substantial loss to its goodwill and reputation, and thereby, demanding compensation of Rs. 1 crore for the alleged defamation.
The High Court was, however, of the view that the plaint did not disclose any cause of action. It was of the view that the article was “general in nature, relating to the subject of counterfeiting of well-known brands”, and hence, does not attribute anything against Tosiba. It also noted that Tosiba had not impleaded as party and claimed any relief against the author of the article, inferring that it had no grievance with the text of the article.
Justice Endlaw, further, went on to emphasize on the importance of the freedom of press, and observed, “Not only so, award of damages, particularly in large amounts, against media houses may also have a chilling effect on the media. In some cases, payment of such amount of compensation, if unable to afford, may compel the media to shut down or may make the media over conscious and thereby fail in its duty to report news on contemporaneous subjects of public interest.”
Read the Judgment here.