SC Sets Aside HC Order That Quashed Defamation Case Against Kannada Daily Newspaper Owner [Read Judgment]

Where defamatory matter is printed (in a newspaper or a book etc.) and sold or offered for sale, whether the owner thereof can be heard to say that he cannot be made vicariously liable for the defamatory material carried by his newspaper etc. requires a critical examination, the bench said.

The Supreme Court has set aside a Karnataka High Court order that had quashed defamation case filed against owner of a Kannada daily newspaper.

Background

Jaya Kirana, a Kannada newspaper, published from Mangalore, Karnataka, allegedly carried a news item containing certain allegations against Mohammed Abdulla Khan. He filed a private complaint against Prakash K, the owner of the newspaper. The magistrate took cognizance of the matter for the offences punishable under sections 500, 501 and 502 of the Indian Penal Code.

Though the revision plea against the said order taking cognizance was turned down by the sessions court, the high court exercising its power under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code quashed the criminal proceedings against the newspaper owner.

A bench of Justice J Chelameswar and Justice S Abdul Nazeer, observed that the order of the high court is cryptic. It is unfortunate that the High Court did not choose to give any reason whatsoever for quashing the complaint except a grand declaration that “it would lead to a miscarriage of justice”, the bench said.

It further observed that whether an accused against whom a complaint is registered under various Sections of the IPC (Sections 500, 501 & 502 IPC) could be convicted for any of those offences, depends upon the evidence regarding the existence of the facts relevant to constitute those offences. Elaborating it further, the bench said: “First of all, it must be established that the matter printed and offered for sale is defamatory within the meaning of the expression under Section 499 IPC. If so proved, the next step would be to examine the question whether the accused committed the acts which constitute the offence of which he is charged with the requisite intention or knowledge etc. to make his acts culpable.”

Referring to provisions relating to offence of defamation, the bench said: “If the respondent is the person who either made or published the defamatory imputation, he would be liable for punishment under Section 500 IPC. If he is the person who “printed” the matter within the meaning of the expression under Section 501 IPC. Similarly to constitute an offence under Section 502 IPC, it must be established that the respondent is not only the owner of the newspaper but also sold or offered the newspaper for sale.”

The acts of printing or selling or offering to sell need not only be the physical acts but include the legal right to sell i.e. to transfer the title in the goods - the newspaper,” the bench added observing that those activities if carried on by people who are employed either directly or indirectly by the owner of the newspaper, perhaps render all of them i.e., the owner, the printer, or the person selling or offering for sale liable for the offences under sections 501 or 502 IPC, (as the case may be), if the other elements indicated in those sections are satisfied.

Setting aside the order, the court observed that, whether the content of the complaint constitutes an offence punishable under any one or all or some of the abovementioned sections was not examined by the high court for quashing the complaint against the respondent. “Whether there is sufficient evidence to establish the guilt of the respondent for any one of the abovementioned three offences is a matter that can be examined only after recording evidence at the time of trial. That can never be a subject matter of a proceeding under Section 482 CrPC,” the bench added.

The court also clarified that KM Mathew’s case only held that if a complaint contains allegations (which, if proved, would constitute defamation), person other than the one who is declared to be the editor of the newspapers can be prosecuted if they are alleged to be responsible for the publication of such defamatory material.

The court also said where defamatory matter is printed (in a newspaper or a book etc) and sold or offered for sale, whether the owner, thereof, can be heard to say that he cannot be made vicariously liable for the defamatory material carried by his newspaper etc. requires a critical examination. “We are of the opinion that the question requires a serious examination in an appropriate case because the owner of a newspaper employs people to print, publish and sell the newspaper to make a financial gain out of the said activity. Each of the abovementioned activities is carried on by persons employed by the owner,” the bench said, adding that it is not examining the said question in this case as it has been neither discussed by the high court in its judgment nor argued before the bench.

Read the Judgment Here