Defamation is a statement which injures the reputation of a person. If any
person harms the reputation of another person, such a task is done at the own
risk of the person defaming the other and he/she is liable to face the
consequences arising out of it. The reputation of a human being is a highly
valuable property, and each person has a right to protect the same. This right
is widely acknowledged as a jus in rem i.e., a right enforceable against those
who violate such right of a person. Defamation is either a written statement
(Libel) or in spoken/ oral form (Slander).
Libel and Slander:
English Law has bifurcated the actions for defamation as Libel and Slander where
libel refers to the publication of any statement that is of defamatory nature
and slander is a defamatory statement made by words spoken or in oral form.
In one case, a film was produced by an English Company which showcased a woman
having relations of seduction with a man who had a very horrible character. It
was held that as far as a film is considered, photographic parts along with the
speech that follows simultaneously is also Libel.
English Law: Under criminal law, slander is not an offence, but libel is an
offence. Under torts law, an action can be brought against slander and libel it
is actionable per se i.e., there is no requirement to provide a proof that such
as act has occurred.
There are few exceptions where slander is also actionable per se.
The exceptions are as follows:
- A charge of claim of criminal offence is made by the plaintiff
- A charge of claim regarding a disease which is contagious in nature, or
any similar infectious disease to the plaintiff, which leads to the
disassociation of other people from the plaintiff.
- A charge of claim that such a person is incapable or not of honest
nature or is a person who is not fit for a particular job, profession or any
other occupation done by him.
- A charge of claim characterizing transgression, or adultery to any woman
or a girl. 
Indian Law: In Indian Law, there is no distinction between Libel and Slander.
Under Section 499 of Indian Penal Code, both libel and slander are criminal
offences. In India, libel, and slander both are actionable per se.
In a case law, it was held by Turner C.J. and Muthuswami Ayyar, J. that in cases
of oral defamation, requirement of proof of special damage is found to be
In another case law, it was held that if there is a charge of claim (imputation)
of unchastity to any woman by words of mouth, the very act is actionable, and no
proof of special damage is required to be given.
Essentials of Defamation
The statement must be defamatory:
- The statement made by the defendant must be one that in injuring the
reputation of the plaintiff and exposing him to humiliation
- Such a statement must lower the reputation of the plaintiff in the minds
of the people who are held to be the right-thinking members of the society.
- The statement can either be oral, or written, or published, or in any
other way by which it gets known to the public.
- Whether a statement made by any such person is defamatory in nature or
not depends on how the members of society take in the statement as.
A defamatory statement is one which has a tendency to injure the reputation
of the person to whom it refers, which tends, that is to say, to lower him
in the estimation of right-thinking members of the society generally and in
particularly to cause him to be regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt,
ridicule, fear, dislike or disesteem.” – Salmond 
In a very famous case, the defendant alleged that the Chief Minister of Tamil
Nadu, already knew about the information regarding the assassination bid on the
life of late Shri Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE cadre. LTTE is a banned organization.
The plaintiff was a senior counsel at that time representing the then CM of
Tamil Nadu. For discharging his duties, the plaintiff had to cross-examine the
defendant, and during the legal proceedings the defendant alleged in written
submission that the plaintiff had received money from LTTE. The statement was
held to be ex facie (on the face of it) defamatory. The statement was irrelevant
to the current context of the situation and thus the statement was held
defamatory. The plaintiff was compensated with INR 5 Lakh as damages. 
A statement might seem as not being a defamation, but due to some hidden meaning
or secondary meaning can be considered as a statement of defamatory nature. In
such cases, the plaintiff must prove the hidden meaning in the statement which
is making the statement as defamatory.
Intention to defame is not necessary:In cases where the statement is found to be defamatory, but the defendant says
that he had no intention to defame the plaintiff, the statement is still held as
defamation. In a case, the defendant had published by mistake that the plaintiff
had given birth to twins, but the woman was just married two months ago. The
defendants were ignorant of the correct facts but were still held liable for
The statement must refer to the plaintiff:
- The plaintiff should prove that the statement made by the defendant was
referred to him.
- If the plaintiff was able to infer that the defamatory statement made by
the plaintiff was directed towards him, then the defendant is liable for
such an act of defamation.
In the case of Newstead v. London Express Newspapers Ltd., the defendants
published an article which stated that “Harold Newstead, a Camberwell man” has
been convicted of bigamy. The statement made by the defendants were true about
Harold Newstead who was a Camberwell barman. But there was another Harold
Newstead who was a Camberwell barber and he inferred that the person being
referred to in the defamatory statement as himself and sued the defendants. The
defendants were held liable. 
The statement must be published: Publication refers to making the statement which is of defamatory nature
known to a person other than the one to whom it is being referred to.
Publication of the statement makes it known to the public at large. Making
the statement known to the plaintiff alone will not amount to any defamation
as defamation involves lowering and injuring the reputation of one person in
the guesstimate of right-thinking members of the society.
In the case of Theaker v. Richardson, the defendant wrote a letter to the
plaintiff which was accusing the plaintiff as “a dirty whore”. The plaintiff’s
husband had opened and read the letter thinking it to a letter regarding the
election process. The plaintiff sued the defendant for libel. The defendant
argued that he did not anticipate that the plaintiff’s husband will read the
letter and there is no publication. The defendant was held liable for defamation
In another case of Mahendra Ram v. Harnandan Prasad
, a letter in Urdu was sent
by the defendant and the plaintiff had no knowledge of how to read Urdu. The
plaintiff requested another person who knows Urdu to read the letter for him.
The letter included contents which might be of defamatory nature. It was held
that the defendant is not liable if he can prove that he did not know that the
plaintiff does not have knowledge of how to read the Urdu script and that would
make him take help from a third person for reading the letter. 
- Justification or Truth:
Defamation is a false statement. So, the person
making the defamatory statement must prove that the statement made against the
plaintiff are true facts. As per criminal law, proving the statement to be true
is not enough. The defendant must also prove that such a statement was made
for bona fide reasons for the good of the public. But under civil law, proving
that the statement made are true facts is enough for defence. The main objective
for the availability of such a defence is that a person who is exposed with
statements of defamation which are qualities a person of ordinary prudence must
not possess. But, if the defendant fails to prove the statement as true, then
this defence will not be available to him.
In a case, the defendant was the editor, printer, and publisher of a
newspaper. He published a series of articles defaming the plaintiff alleging
that the plaintiff has issued fake certificates, has accepted bribes, and
follows unlawful methods for various issues. But when the plaintiff sued the
defendant, he failed to prove all the allegations to be true and was
therefore held liable for defamation. [11
- Fair Comment:
For a person to avail this defence, he must prove that the
statements made by him were an opinion expressed and not a forceful statement of
facts. He must prove that expression of such an opinion was fair and was for the
purpose of public interest. To determine that the statement made by the
defendant is a comment or not depends on how he has used the language or in what
context has he stated it.
The comment made by the defendant cannot be considered
as a fair comment if such statement is not true. The matter on which such
comments are made must be of public interest such as regarding government
departments or any public company, or local authorities, etc.
In the case of K.S. Sundram v. S. Vishwanathan, the defendants published about
the deterioration in the performance of management of the company of which the
plaintiff was the President. It was held by the Madras High Court that there was
no personal anger established for a writer who publishes articles which are
defamatory for the plaintiff. It was also held that the articles published
contained fair comment and are not statements of defamation. 
In certain situations, the law recognizes that right to
freedom of speech is surpassing the right to reputation of the plaintiff and
such situations are treated as privileged. There are two types of privileges:
- Absolute and
In absolute privilege, there is no action for
proceedings for defamation even if the statements are made from malice. In these
cases, it is demanded in public interest that the freedom of speech should
surpass the right to reputation of an individual. In qualified privilege, it is
important that the statement made must be without malice. Such a defence is
available when there is any discharge of duty, protection of public interest,
fair report by the parliament, or any other public proceedings.
In a case, it was held that a creditor is protected when he makes any statement
about the financial condition of the debtor to another creditor. 
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Sandhya Prabhakaran
- Youssoupoff v. M.G.M Picture Ltd., (1934) 50 T.L.R. 581
- Exception created by the Slander of Women Act, 1891
- Parvathi v. Mannar, I.L.R. (1885) 8 Mad. 175
- A.C. Narayana Sah v. Kannamma Bai, I.L.R. (1932) 55 Mad. 727
- Quoted in Deepak Kumar Biswas v. National Insurance Co. Ltd., A.I.R.
2006 Gau. 110
- Ram Jethmalani v. Subramaniam Swamy, A.I.R. 2006 Del. 300
- Morrison v. Ritihie & Co., (1902) 4 F. 654
- (1939) 4 All E.R. 391: (1940) 1 K.B. 377
- Theaker v. Richardson, (1962) 1 All E.R. 299
- A.I.R. 1958 Pat. 445
- Radheshyam Tiwari v. Eknath, A.I.R. 1985 Bom. 285
- A.I.R. 2013 (NOC) 216 (Mad.)
- Spill v. Maule, (1869) L.R. 4 Ex. 232
- BBA LL.B. (H), 1st year, Amity Law School, Noida
Authentication No: AP111813182845-28-0421