The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court has dismissed a defamation case filed against a leading media house, asserting that the media has the right to report on the registration of first information reports (FIRs) and the publisher is not expected to ascertain the truthfulness of an FIR before publishing news.
Justice Vinay Joshi of the high court on June 20 dismissed the criminal complaint of defamation while hearing a petition filed by Chairman of Lokmat Media Pvt Ltd Vijay Darda and its Editor-in-Chief Rajendra Darda, who sought to quash the criminal proceedings initiated against them by a magistrate court on a defamation complaint filed by a man for a news item published about him in daily ‘Lokmat’ on May 20, 2016. The news was related to the registration of an offense against the complainant and his family members, which the complainant alleged was ”false and defamatory as the publishers had not verified facts before publishing the news”.
The complainant submitted that though the applicants (Lokmat) were shouldering the responsibility of the items published in the newspaper, they have published the concerned news without verifying its truthfulness. The complainant alleged that the police report was ”totally false and frivolous”.
The complainant submitted that on the date of the alleged occurrence, the complainant was not present at the scene of the crime. Later on, his name was dropped from the charge sheet. He alleged that the applicants, without ascertaining the genuineness of the police report, published the news item which harmed his reputation. The judge, while quashing the defamation case against the owners of the newspaper, stressed the freedom of the press and the importance of the information that the media provides. ”It is common knowledge that in daily newspapers at least some space is devoted to the news about the registration of crimes, filing of cases in courts, the progress of the investigation, arrest of persons, etc. It constitutes news events, which the public has the right to know,” the court said.
Calling the accurate reportage on registration of cases as defamatory would amount to restricting reporting on investigations to only the outcome depriving the right of the public to know the happenings, it said.
The court observed that the petitioners were not concerned with the news that was published, and there was another editor named in the paper, who was, however, not an accused in the FIR.
Hence, it held that the offense of defamation claimed by the complainant had not been made out against the applicants.
”The responsibility of the editor is to publish facts and nothing else. The complaint of defamation alleges that the truthfulness of the contents of the FIR is not verified. The publisher is not expected to investigate the matter and ascertain the truthfulness of the FIR before publishing the news item. The liability and responsibility of the editor are restricted to a limited extent. Therefore, the contention in that regard is not acceptable,” the court said.
The court dismissed the criminal complaint against Vijay Darda and Rajendra Darda and disposed of the criminal application against them.