Journalists Shouldn’t Be Charged With Defamation For Minor Errors: SC

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New Delhi: Amid the outrage over an FIR filed against a journalist for reporting alleged Aadhaar data breach, the Supreme Court on Monday observed that the media must continue to enjoy freedom of speech and expression.

According to The Times of India, the court said, while hearing a different case, that journalists should not be charged with defamation just because they committed minor errors in reporting or showed passion and enthusiasm in covering a scam.

The court made the observations while hearing a plea by a woman against a Patna High Court order of September 12 nullifying cognizance taken by a magistrate of her defamation complaint against some high-profile journalists.

The petitioner had accused the journalists of broadcasting false news that defamed her and family members. In her plea before the apex court, the woman has stated that her father is a senior and reputed bureaucrat while her mother is a minister in the Bihar government.

As per the April 2010 news report, the woman in question was allotted land in Bihiya Industrial Area by Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority for setting up a food processing unit. That allotment had irregularities, as per the news report.

The woman had accused the Hindi TV news channel of “scandalous and derogatory” comments against her and her family.

“In a democracy you must learn to tolerate. The case has continued since 2011. The persons have spent a lot of time and money in defending themselves. Defamation may be constitutionally valid. But, an alleged incorrect news item about a scam does not amount to defamation,” the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra observed yesterday.

Rejecting the petition, the bench further said: “There could be some error or enthusiasm in reporting an alleged scam. But, we must allow freedom of speech and expression to press at the fullest. There may be some wrong reporting. For that they need not be hauled up for defamation.”

Earlier, the Patna HC had observed: “In this case, the offence of defamation is punishable with simple imprisonment for a term of two years. Hence, cognisance for its conspiracy, under Section 120B of IPC, without the consent of the State Government or the District Magistrate is bad-in-law as such not sustainable. Accordingly, this court is of the view that there is no direct allegation of defamation against the petitioners and cognisance for the offence under Section 120B, that is criminal conspiracy to commit defamation, is barred under the specific provisions of sub-Section (2) of Section 196 of the of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”

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