The Madras High Court has observed that defamation cases have become “tool of intimidation” for a few powerful politicians and corporates and has quashed such proceedings against two journalists and an English daily.
Justice G R Swaminathan, who quashed the proceedings recently, said such “cases are used as tools to intimidate the media.”
The higher judiciary could not desert its duty when it comes to protection of fundamental rights and the freedom of the press, the judge said.
The Judiciary will have to take the role of an activist as “criminal defamation proceedings have become a tool of intimidation before corporate bodies and powerful politicians whose pockets are tunnel deep and whose hands are long that even media houses (that) have good resources have capitulated,” he said.
V V Minerals had filed defamation proceedings against the daily, objecting to an article published by the newspaper in July 2015.
A local court in Tirunelveli had issued summons to four people — the journalist who authored the report, and the editor of the daily, a grievance cell officer of the newspaper and the journalist’s husband.
Observing that mere minor inaccuracies in reporting cannot justify initiating prosecution proceedings, the judge said, “There can always be margin of error, though the permissible width of the margin will depend on facts and circumstances.”
The errors in the proceedings included all the four not residing within the jurisdiction of the Tirunelveli Judicial Magistrate 1. That being the case, how could it issue summons to them, the Judge wondered.
Besides, the court should have returned the defamation complaint as it was defective since the accused had not been named in person with appropriate description.
“The magistrate appears to have mechanically taken cognizance of the offences even without noting that the grievances redressal officer and the editor have not been named in person at all,” the Judge said.
The article was published in the wake of a notice issued by the High court on a PIL relating to irregularities in beach sand mining, he pointed out.
The media can carry a story on the issue when the High Court issued notice based on the allegations made by a litigant and when the issue was raised as a public question.
The media is entitled to carry a story on the same, he said.
Further, the author of the article had reached out to V Vaikundarajan of V V Minerals and published his response also on the same article, he said.