Media must report matters of public importance to make society more vigilant, says Kerala HC; quashes criminal defamation case against Malayala Manorama

The media is not expected to shy away from the matters of public importance; it is their solemn duty to serve society by covering news with its pros and cons so as to make society more functional and vigilant, the Kerala High Court said while quashing a criminal defamation case against the Managing Editor, the Chief Editor and the Printer and Publisher of Malayala Manorama, a daily newspaper.

The Court was ruling on a petition seeking to quash criminal defamation proceedings on account of a private complaint that a magistrate had taken cognizance of. The complaint related to a story in the daily on a Vigilance Inquiry Report against the complainant and others in which they were described as accused persons even before a case was registered against them.

Justice P Somarajan said what was reported in the disputed news item was a true version of the report submitted by the Vigilance against the defacto complainant and three others. It was true, he added, that they were referred to as accused persons in the news item, even before registration of crime in connection with the allegations.

“The news item published with necessary comments, though sometimes contemptuous, may not itself amount to defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC, unless the same is lacking in good faith and not concerning a matter of public interest or public good”, Justice Somarajan held.

The contemptuous nature of the news item would not attract the offense of defamation, the Judge said, if it was the truth and required publication for public good.

While quashing the case, the Court opined that the private complaint submitted was really intended to defeat the solemn function vested with the fourth estate. It is an abuse of the process of court and liable to be quashed, the judge said.

Read the Judgment