What is Defamation?
Defamation is defined under the law of torts as the injury to the reputation of
an individual. It was held that a man's reputation is his property, more
valuable than other property.
Libel and slander
English Law divided the defamation into two types; namely Libel and Slander.
Libel: Written form of defamation; examples: Writing, picture, effigy. There
is a landmark case on libel named Youssoupoff v. M.G.M. Pictures Ltd. In this
case, court said that cinema film is not a photographic part but it is to be
considered as Libel because of its permanent nature.
Facts of the case:
In a film produced by a producing company named Metro Goldwyn
Mayer Pictures Ltd., there is a character of Princess Natasha engaging in
relation of Seduction or Rape with Rasputin (Described as worst character in the
Section 1 of Defamation Act, 1952 defines that any broadcasting of words through
any wireless telegraphy will be treated as permanent form of publication.
According to English Criminal Law, Only Libel is considered as offence but not
According to English Law of Torts, Libel is always Actional per se which means
Libel is actionable as per law even without the proof of any damage. Slander is
actionable as per law only on proof of special damage (Exceptional cases).
Indian Laws on Libel and Slander:
Indian Law does not make any differentiation between Libel and Slander. Under
Section 499 of IPC, Libel and Slander are criminal offences.
Section 499, IPC:
If someone makes or publishes any imputation about someone
intending to harm their reputation, or knows or believes it will, they are
considered to defame that person, except in certain cases, unless otherwise
In Hirabai Jehangir v. Dinshaw Eduliji
 , Bombay High court stated that "When
the reputation of women is damages by spoken words, the wrong will be actionable
per se i.e., without proof of Special damage". Same was said by madras High
court in A.D. Narayana Sah v. Kannamma Bai.
In D.P. Choudhary v. Manjulata case, Manjulala
, a 17-year-old student from a
distinguished family in Jodhpur, was falsely accused of running away with a boy
named Kamlesh after leaving her house for night classes. The news item,
published in Dainik Navjyoti, was untrue and negligently published, causing
shock and ridicule among her acquaintances. The court ruled that all defamatory
words are actionable, and in such cases, general damages will be presumed.
Manjulala was awarded Rs. 10,000/- in general damages.
Essentials of Defamation:To say a statement to be defamatory, plaintiff need to prove the following 3
Elaborating the essentials:
- The statement must be of in defamatory nature.
- The said statement must be intended towards plaintiff.
- The statement must be published which means it should be known to 3rd
Essential 1: The statement must be of in defamatory nature.
Defamation is a statement that harms the reputation of a plaintiff, lowering
their estimation among right-thinking members of society or making them shun or
avoid them. It can be made through oral, written, printed, or by exhibiting a
picture, statue, effigy, or by conduct. The standard to be applied is that of a
right-minded citizen, a man of fair average intelligence, not a special class of
individuals whose values are not shared or approved by fair-minded members of
If the likely effect of the statement is the injury to the
plaintiff's reputation, it is not a defence to say that it was not intended to
be defamatory. If the statement causes someone to be regarded with feelings of
hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike, or dis-esteem, it is defamatory.
The essence of defamation is injury to a person's character or reputation.
- S.N.M. Abdi v. Prafulla Kumar Mohanta: The court decided that a remark
had to have the potential to harm the plaintiff's reputation among all members
of the community or his associates, but it also had to damage him in the eyes of
a sizable, respectable group, even if they made up a small portion of the
community or his associates as a whole. Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mohanta
was accused of abusing his position of authority and strength in an article that
appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India on August 9, 1990. Rupees five
million was granted as damages to the plaintiff.
- South Indian Railway Co. v. Raakrishna: A South Indian train Co. train
guard is accused of misleading a passenger into thinking they had the wrong
ticket. Even though they possessed a legal ticket, the passenger sued the
company, claiming that the words were defamatory. The guard's comments were
genuine, the court said, therefore there was no defamation and the company was
not accountable for the incident. The case highlights how important it is to
speak truthfully and precisely while handling railroad-related matters.
What is Innuendo?
Innuendo means defaming by indirect or implied reference. By prima facie, a
statement cannot be defamatory but by the secondary meaning it will be
considered as Innuendo. In case of Innuendo to be proved, plaintiff should prove
that the words are not defamatory in ordinary sense but the statement is
defamatory in secondary meaning (indirectly implied towards the plaintiff's
A spreads news to B, that C is under treatment of Dr. D. (This may not
look like defamation but if the Dr. D is psychiatrist � it means that C is
suffering from psychological disorder. This becomes defamatory)
Case Law: Cassidy V. Daily Mirror Newspapers:
photograph of Mr. A and Miss B being together in a newspaper stating that "Mr. A
(Race horse owner) and Miss B, engagement has been announced." This published
statement is utter false as they were already married. The court held in favour
of the wife of Mr. A that the publication is having the nature of defamation of
the plaintiff that she was not the lawful wife of Mr. A and was living with him
unlawfully this many days. Defendants were held liable for the defamation.
Intention to defame is not necessary.
Essential � 2: The said statement must be intended towards plaintiff.
The statements alleged to be defamatory must be referred to the plaintiff. It's
not necessary to show the intention of the defendant.
- E. Hulton & Co. v. Jones: In this case defendant (E. Hulton & Co.) wrote
a defamatory statement using the plaintiff's name. The defendant claimed that
they are not liable for libel because they used Hulton's name as a fictious
character name and ever heard the name of the plaintiff. Court held that
Intention of the defendant is not necessary in case of defamation.
- Newstead v. London Express Newspapers Ltd.: The defendents (Newspaper)
published an article on newspaper that the Harold Newstead, a Camberwell man got
convicted for bigamy offence. The storey was true about Harold Newstead,
Camberwell barman. Plaintiff named Harold Newstead, the barber brought case to
court that the publication was defamatory; it was in the mean of intending him.
Court held that the publication is like a defamatory for the plaintiff and held
defendants liable for the same.
- Harsh Mendiratta v. Maharaja Singh: The person on whom the defamatory
words were intended can only file case for defamation but not by friends or
The statement must be published which means it should be known to
The Tort of defamation is only be committed, if the publication is known to 3rd
person other than the one who made the statement and the one on whom the
statement was made. Only this constitutes the tort of defamation.
Case Law: Mahendra Ram v. Harnandan Prasad
Defendant sent a defamatory statement in urdu through letter knowing that the
plaintiff can't understand Urdu and he needs assistance of someone to understand
the letter. When Plaintiff asked 3rd person to understand letter, defamatory
statement got communicated to 3rd person along with Plaintiff. Court said this
defamation because defendant knowing that plaintiff can't understand Urdu sent
Communication between Husband and Wife:
In the eyes of law, Husband and Wife will be treated as one. So, any
communication to wife will not be treated as defamation and wife and husband are
not considered as 3rd party.
Case: T.J.Ponnen v. M.C.Verghese:
In this case, court said that the Husband
and Wife will be treated as one and communication between them is not
Defenses of Defamation:
Truth as Defence:
- Fair Comment
- Privilege ( Absolute privilege and Qualified privilege)
Justification of truth is complete defence for defamation.
The words said by the defendant must be true. Law won't allow a man to recover
damages in respect of injury to a character which he does not possess.
Case: Alexander v. North Eastern Railway
- The plaintiff was found guilty of using a train without a valid ticket, which
carries a punishment of up to fourteen days in jail if unpaid. The defendant
then sent the plaintiff a notification indicating that she had been found guilty
and that she would have to pay a fine or face three weeks in jail if she didn't.
By giving an erroneous description of the punishment, the plaintiff alleged that
the defendant had committed libel.
The defendants contended that the comments
were not defamatory and that the conviction was fairly portrayed. Since the main
thrust of the libel was that the plaintiff had been sentenced to pay an amount
of money or face imprisonment in default, the verdict was in favour of the
- Fair Comment: For a fair comment on public
interest won't be said liable. The comment in public
interest must be bona fide and should be malice. Legitimate
criticism can't be said tort.
- Privilege: Court gave few exceptions where
freedom of speech outweighs a plaintiff's right to
reputation as 'Privileged'; this privilege is divided into
two types: Absolute privilege and qualified privilege.
- Parliamentary proceedings
- Judicial proceedings
- Military proceedings
- Naval proceedings
- State proceedings
- Fair and Accurate reports
- Statements to Protection of common interest
- Statement made to perform a duty in good interest
Defamation in simple words is nothing but to insult someone's reputation in
society. Its important to understand the Laws relating to defamation to ensure
that one's reputation is protected and also the freedom of speech is balanced.
Indian Law relating to Defamation: IPC S.499 and S.500 governs defamation as
well as the law of torts. Supreme Court of India also interpreted these sections
to strike the balance between Right to protection of one's reputation and
Freedom of speech. Courts have given great importance to truth as a defense in
defamation cases. The defamation should be seen from the view of right thinking
It is important for individuals and also media organizations to have caution
during the publication or sharing the information that the information should be
accurate and should not be false or damaging statements about others. To
exercise the rights, one should prove that there was publication of false
statement, its impact on his reputation and it should be false and also not in
Overall, defamation laws aim to ensure the rights of each individual in
protecting reputation. These laws make sure that no one will spread false
statement in the name of freedom of speech. It's important that the individuals
should be mindful of their words and actions and have knowledge on legal
consequences of defamation in order to maintain peaceful society.
- "Law of Torts" by R.K.Bangia.
- "Winfield and Jolowicz on Tort" by W.V.H. Rogers.
- Black Law Dictionary
- SCC Online
Written By: Patenge Chathrapathi
- Dixon v Holden  7 Eq488
- Monson v Tusssands Ltd.,  1 Q.B.671
- Youssoupoff v MGM case  50 TLR 581 (CA)
- Defamation Act 1952, s 1
- Act No 45 of 1860, s 499
- Hirabai Jehangir v Dinshaw Edulji  I.L.R 51 Bom. 167
- A.D. Narayana Sah v Kannamma Bai  I.L.R. 55 Mad. 737
- D.P.Choudhary v Manjulata  A.I.R. Raj. 170
- Capital and Counties Bank v Henty & Sons  7 A.C. 741
- S.N.M. Abdi v Prafulla Kumar Mohanta  A.I.R. Gauhati 75
- South Indian Railway Co. v Ramakrishna  13 Mad 34
- Cassidy v Daily Mirror Newspaper Ltd  2 KB 331
- E. Hulton & co v Jones  220 F Supp 598 (US Dist)
- Newstead v London  1 KB 377
- Harsh Mendiratta v Maharaj Singh  CriLJ;  DLT 78;  61 DRJ 123
- Mahendra Ram v Harnandan Prasad  AIR Pat 445
- M C Verghese v T J Ponnen  AIR 1876;  2 SCR 692
- Alexander v North Eastern Railway Coo  6 B & S 340
, BALLB student at Damodaram Sanjivayya
National Law University, Vishakhapatnam.