Defamation in Law

Every person has a right to have his reputation preserved inviolate. It is a jus in rem, a right good against all in the world.

Defamation in law, means attacking another person’s reputation by a false publication (communication to a third party), tending to bring the person into disrepute.

As per Merriam–Webster Dictionary, defamation means the act of communicating false statements about a person that injure the reputation of that person.

Black’s Law Dictionary records that defamation means offence of injuring a person’s character, fame, or reputation by false and malicious statements.

For any defamation action under special law of torts to be successful, the following essential elements are to be proved before the court:

(i) the statement is made by words, either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations;

(ii) the said statement must refer to the plaintiff;

(iii) the statement must be defamatory;

(iv) the person making the defamatory statement knows that there are high chances of other people believing the statement to be true and it will result in causing injury to the reputation of the person defamed;

(v) the statement should be false;

(vi) the statement should not be privileged;

(vii) the statement must be published;

(viii) the third party believes the defamatory matter to be true; and

(ix) the statement must cause injury.

The major defenses to defamation are:

○the allegedly defamatory statement was merely a statement of opinion
○consent to the publication of the allegedly defamatory statement
○absolute privilege
○qualified privilege
○retraction of the allegedly defamatory statement.

Defamation VS. Freedom of Speech

The question that arises is whether liability arising out of defamation is a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression. As we know that there is no specific fundamental right to privacy, the judicial interpretation includes it as a dimension of the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. So the right to reputation also comes in the ambit of Article 21.In the case of , a petition regarding the decriminalization of defamation was filed. The petition challenged the constitutional validity of Section 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression. The apex court held that criminal defamation under Section 499 and 500 did not violate Art. 19(1)(a) as it is a reasonable restriction under Art. 19(2). The term ‘defamation’ in Art. 19(2) includes both civil and criminal defamation. Section 499 and 500 IPC was held to be non-discriminatory and non-arbitrary and not violative of the right to equality guaranteed under Art. 14 of the Constitution. While in a democracy an individual has a right to criticize and dissent, but his right under Art. 19(1)(a) is not absolute and he cannot defame another person as that would offend the victim’s fundamental right to reputation which is an integral part of Art. 21 of the Constitution.

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