Concept of Defamation

Defamation as the meaning of the word suggests is an injury to the reputation of a person resulting from a statement which is false. A man’s reputation is treated as his property and if any person poses damage to property he is liable under the law, similarly, a person injuring the reputation of a person is also liable under the law. Defamation is defined section 499 of Indian Penal Code 1860 and section 500 provides that a person committing an offense under this section is liable with simple imprisonment for a term of 2 years or fine or with both.
Essentials of Defamation
A. The statement must be defamatory
The very first essential of the offense of defamation is that the statement must be defamatory i.e. which tends to lower the reputation of the plaintiff. The test to check if a particular statement is defamatory or not will depend upon how the right thinking members of society are likely to take it. Further, a person cannot take a defense that the statement was not intended to be defamatory, although it caused a feeling of hatred, contempt or dislike.
B. The statement must refer to the plaintiff
In an action for defamation, the plaintiff has to prove that the statement of which he Complains referred to him, it will be immaterial that the defendant did not intend to defame the plaintiff. If the person to whom the statement was published could reasonably infer that the statement referred to him, the defendant will then be liable
C. The statement must be published
Publication of defamatory statement to some person other than the person defamed is a most important aspect for making any person liable, and unless that is done, no action for defamation will lie.
However, if a third person wrongfully reads a letter meant for the plaintiff, then the defendant likely to be liable. But if the defamatory letter sent to the plaintiff is likely to be read by somebody else, there will be a valid publication.
Forms of Defamation
1. Slander– It is the publication of a defamatory statement in a transient form For example- Defaming a person by way of words or gestures.
2. Libel– It is the representation made in some permanent form.
A statement is prima facie defamatory when its natural and obvious meaning leads to that conclusion. Sometimes it may happen that the statement was prima facie innocent but because of some secondary meaning, it may be considered to be defamatory. For this secondary instance plaintiff must prove the secondary meaning i.e. innuendo which makes the statement defamatory.
Z makes a statement that X is an honest man and he never stole my watch. Now this statement is at first instance may be innocent, but it can be defamatory if the person to whom it was made, interprets from this that X is a dishonest man having stolen the watch.
Defenses defamation
The defenses to an action for defamation are
1. Justification of truth
2. Fair comment
3. Privilege
Justification of truth
In a civil action for defamation, the truth of the defamatory matter is a complete defense and the reason for this is that “ Law will not permit a man to recover damages for something being true about him “.
Under criminal law on the other hand merely proving that the statement was true is not a good defense and besides this, the defendant has to show that it was made for public good also.
Fair comment
Making a fair comment on matters public interest is a valid defense to an action for defamation. For this, the following must be proved
• It must be a comment i.e, an expression of opinion rather than an assertion of fact
For example, If X says that A has been guilty of breach of trust and therefore he is a dishonest man. Here the latter words are a comment on the former. But if A did not commit any breach of trust and X still says to him as a dishonest man. Then it will not be a comment and will amount to an assertion of fact.
As the word suggests itself i.e. giving special status. These special occasions when the law recognizes that the right of free speech outweighs the plaintiffs right to defamation and a defamatory statement made on such occasion is not actionable. Privileges are of two types.
1. Absolute privileges– In matters of these complete immunity is given to person speaking and no action for defamation can lie against him. It includes 3 aspects
• Parliamentary proceedings– Article 105(2) of the Indian constitution gives immunity to parliamentarians to speak anything during the course of business of parliament and no action would lie against them.
• Judicial proceedings– This protection has been given to judges under judicial officers protection act of 1850.It also extends to counsels, witnesses, and parties to a suit.
2. Qualified privilege– This privilege is also available and under this, it is necessary that the statement must have been made without a malice i.e a wrongful intention.
After analyzing all the key aspects of defamation as laid in section 499 IPC, we have found that the essence of defamation lies in the injury to the reputation of a person. And for this injury, he can very much sue the defendants. Defamation is of two types libel and slander. Both are considered as criminal offenses in India. There are certain exceptions to this known as privilege.


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