Due Respect to Be Given to Leaders of the Country/State While Publishing Matters Regarding Them: Madras HC

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The Madras High Court stated that when any matter regarding any leader of the Country or State is being printed or published, it should be properly addressed.

Background of the case

A complaint was filed against the petitioners, a Tamil newspaper called Dinamalar on the ground that the petitioners had published defamatory content relating to the conduct of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Hon’ble J. Jayalalitha.

Therefore, a criminal original petition was filed by the petitioners under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 seeking to quash the proceeding that was initiated against the petitioners for the offence of defamation punishable under Sections 500 and 501 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Arguments before the Court

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It was contended by the learned Counsel appearing for the petitioners that the content published by the petitioners was not defamatory in respect to the act or conduct of the former Chief Minister in the discharge of her public actions and that “at the best it can only be treated as a personal defamation.” According to the Counsel, the complaint maintained through the City Public Prosecutor did not meet the requirement of Section 199 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

The Counsel appearing for the State (respondent), contended that the petitioners made “wild allegations against the then Hon’ble Chief Minister and thereby have defamed her name in the eyes of the general public.”

The Counsel also highlighted the limitations imposed on the fundamental right of free speech and expression.

Observations before the Court

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The Court considered the matter that was published in the newspaper of the petitioners and the contentions of both parties and observed that,

While printing and publishing matters with regard to the leaders of the Country or State, the petitioners are supposed to give respect and address them accordingly.”

The Court stated that a complaint under Section 199 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 can be maintained when the allegations pertain to the acts or conduct of the servant in discharge of their public function; that “if the defamatory statement is personal in nature, the procedure would not apply and only the concerned person can file the complaint in their personal capacity.” Hence the complaint filed through the City Public Prosecutor was not maintainable.

Decision of the Court

The Hon’ble Madras High Court directed the petitioners to refrain from printing matters in a disrespectful manner and that the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu should be referred to as the ‘Hon’ble Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha’ and not simply with a ‘J’. Accordingly, the criminal original petition was allowed.

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