Publisher & Editor of Divya Himachal Vs. Parkash Chand [Himachal Pradesh High Court, 11-12-2017]

Defamation – Publishing Defamatory News – a newspaper is in no different position from an individual and it cannot give currency to a defamatory statement and escape upon the ground itself that, it showed that it did not believe that which it had published. That may have some bearing on the question of damages but not upon the question of liability. The responsibility in either case is the same. The degree of care and attention is in no way less in the case of newspaper publications other than that required from ordinary men.

Held: – In India, since we have a written constitution, it is recognized that freedom of speech is not an absolute unlimited right. Article 19(2) provides reasonable restrictions on what is guaranteed by article 19(1)(a). Therefore, the mass media must maintain high professional standards and are obliged to verify the correctness of the news disseminated. Publication of false news cannot be regarded as a public service, but a disservice to the public. Publication of very bit of news does not necessarily serve the public interest.

IN THE HIGH COURT OF HIMACHAL PRADESH SHIMLA

Coram: The Hon’ble Mr. Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan, Judge.

RFA No. 153 of 2003 along with Cross Objections No. 275 of 2003

Decided on: 11.12.2017

1. RFA No.153/2003 The Publisher and Editor of Divya Himachal and anr.…..Appellants Versus Parkash Chand and ors. ….Respondents

2. Cross Objections No.275/2003 The Publisher and Editor of Divya Himachal and anr.…..Appellants/Non-objectors Versus Parkash Chand and ors.….Respondents/Objectors

For the appellant(s): Mr. Anup Rattan, Advocate, for the appellants in RFA No.153/2003 and for the non-objectors in Cross Objections No.275/2003 For the respondent(s): Mr. G.D. Verma, Senior Advocate with Mr. B.C. Verma, Advocate, for respondent No.1 in RFA No.153/2003 and for objector in Cross-objections No. 275/2003

Tarlok Singh Chauhan (oral):

Since common questions of law and facts are involved in both – regular first appeal and cross-objections – therefore, the same were taken together for hearing and the same are being disposed of by a common judgment.

2. The appellants/defendants No. 1 and 2 happen to be publisher and editor of Divya Himachal Newspaper, against whom a decree towards damages of Rs. 10,000/- has been fastened for publishing defamatory news against the respondent/plaintiff. The parties shall be referred to as the plaintiff and defendants.

3. The plaintiff is a barber having his shop under the name and style of M/s Today Hair Dressers, The Mall, Solan. Defendant No.5, Sanjay Azad, has a news agency under the name and style of M/s Azad News Agency at Chail, Tehsil Kandaghat, District Solan and also happens to be the correspondent of Divya Himachal Newspaper and ‘Nirala’ daily and weekly newspaper.

4. According to the plaintiff, the Barber’s Union at Solan had fixed the rates of hair cutting, shaving etc. and its rate list was duly signed by the President of the Union and displayed in the shop. It was averred that on 11.8.1999, defendants No. 1 and 2 i.e. the appellants herein, published a news item in Divya Himachal daily with the caption “ 􀀂 . It was alleged that the said news was defamatory, libelous and affected the reputation of the plaintiff in the society and amongst his colleagues. Similar publication was made in ‘Nirala’ weekly. However, since the defendants No. 3 to 5 have not filed any appeal against the judgment and decree passed against them whereby they have been held liable to pay damages of Rs. 10,000/- for the defamatory article published by them, this court needs not to go into the contents of the publication made therein.

5. The defendants contested the suit and raised preliminary objections like locus standi, maintainability of suit, disputed cause of action, valuation of suit etc. On merits, the defendants denied having published the defamatory news as alleged, but according to them, they published the said news item after due verification and without any intention to malign anybody’s reputation including the plaintiff. It was further averred that they did not even know the plaintiff personally and, therefore, there was no animus against him nor was his business affected in any manner.

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