SC for scrutiny if newspaper owner can be liable for defamation

SC for scrutiny if newspaper owner can be liable for defamation

The Supreme Court on Monday said it has to be critically examined whether a newspaper owner can be held vicariously liable for publishing a defamatory article.

"Where defamatory matter is printed (in a newspaper or a book etc.) and sold or offered for sale, whether the owner thereof can be heard to say that he cannot be made vicariously liable for  the defamatory material carried by his newspaper etc., requires a critical examination," a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer said.

The court, however, held that the owner of a newspaper would be liable for printing defamatory article, enjoining two years prison term or fine or both, if all the ingredients of the offences were met.

"We must make it clear that for the acts of printing or selling or offering to sell need not only be the physical acts but include the legal right to sell i e to transfer the title in the goods - the  newspaper," the bench said.

Joint liability

"Those activities if carried on by people, who are employed either directly or indirectly by the owner of the newspaper, perhaps render all of them i e, the owner, the printer, or the person selling or offering for sale liable for the offences under Sections 501 or 502 IPC (as the case may be) if the other elements indicated in those Sections are satisfied," the bench added.

The court made the exposition of law while setting aside a Karnataka High Court order that had quashed a defamation complaint filed by Mohammed Abdulla Khan against Prakash K, owner of a Mangaluru-based Kannada daily "Jaya Kirana" for publishing an allegedly defamatory article on December 16, 2013.

The apex court sought assistance from senior advocate M N Rao as the newspaper owner preferred not to contest. The petitioner, Khan appeared in person to argue his case.

The court said whether the said news item was in fact defamatory would have to be examined.

On the issue of owner's vicarious liability, the bench said, "We are of the opinion that the question requires a  serious examination in an appropriate case because the owner of a newspaper employs people to print, publish and sell the newspaper to make a financial gain out of the said activity."

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