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Defamation – Definition And Meaning

SECTION 499: Defamation – DeFInition and Meaning

According to Section 499 if a person by words either spoken or intended to be read or signs or visual representation, makes or publishes the aforementioned concerning any person with an intention to harm or having knowledge that such imputation will cause harm to the reputation of such person is said to defame that person.


1. The statement must be defamatory.

2. The said statement must refer to the plaintiff


3. The statement must be published i.e., communicated to at least one person other than the claimant.It is only when the publication is done that other people get to know about the defamatory imputations which have been made or published. Therefore, if ‘A’ makes any defamatory statements about ‘B’ directly to ‘B’ then the particular act will not amount to defamation.[1]


The imputation made or published regarding the deceased must be derogatory and must hurt the feelings of his near relatives. The essence of this explanation is the cause caused and not the intent of the harm with which it was done.


The imputation must attack the method in which the company is conducting its affairs or must accuse it of fraud, attack its financial position, or accuse it of mismanagement.
In the case of G Narasimham v. TV Chokkappa,[2] the Apex court observed that a derogatory statement directed towards an association or a company will also cover the collection of persons.


The Oxford dictionary defines an innuendo as “an allusive or oblique remark or hint, typically a suggestive or disparaging one”. If a person can show that even though a statement might not appear prima facie defamatory, however, due to the subsisting circumstances and nature of its publication is derogatory to his reputation then the offence of defamation may be said to have taken place.


It is not defamation in A to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting Z’s conduct in petitioning Govt on a public question in calling for a meeting on a public question in attending such a meeting in voting or canvassing for a particular candidate.


This explanation elaborates on how a person’s reputation may be harmed. It essentially says that derogatory statements must lower the intellectual character or the morals of a personconcerned, either directly or indirectly.
In a case of Panna Lal,[3] the accused had put up a poster during an election contest against his competitor who was a barrister which stated: “The hollowness of Mr. X’s capacity as a barrister has been exposed.” The court held the accused to be guilty of defamation as the poster lower the intellectual qualities of the complainant after his aptitude as a barrister was attacked.

In Sardar Amar Singh vs K.S. Badalia[4] the court observed that this explanation makes it clear that he harmsreferred to in the explanation have to reference to imputation on a man’s character made to lower him in the estimation of others and not himself.


A sayZ is an honest man; he never stole B’s watch”; in­tending to cause it to be believed that Z did steal B’s watch. This is defamation unless it falls within one of the exceptions.


A publication with true contents and made with an intention of the public good, howsoever derogatory will not amount to defamation.Hence, even if the veracity of a statement is unquestionable, if it serves no public good then the same act will amount to defamation.
It was held in the case of Chamanlal vs state of Punjab[5] that when a person makes a comment upon the character of a public servant and it is for the public good, no action would lie against him considering the comments are honestly made and there is no willful misrepresentation.


This exception protects opinions and not assertions. Every citizen has the legal right to make fair comments on the public men in the interest of the public. Nevertheless, such statements must not be made with malice and slander under the garb of exercising freedom of speech provided by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Men holding public positions are not immune to fair criticism.

Likewise, authors and publishers are not any different than any other person while commenting, thereby are not warranted any special privileges or safeguards from Section 499, IPC.

In the case of Purushottam Vijay vs. State of Madhya Pradesh[6] the high court of Madhya Pradesh while observing that a newspaper should be more cautious and careful than a private individual stated the requirements of the defence available under the second and third exceptions under Section 499. These are:

1. The facts on which the comment is made should be substantially true.

2. The comments should be fair, in the sense that they are inspired by a genuine desire on the part of the writer to serve the public interest.

3. The criticism should be in the public interest and for the public good. It should not be malicious.


Further, a fair, honest, and true criticism of servants of public other than the official public servants will succeed to be a fair comment. The rights of freedom of speech enjoyed by the media person are the same as any ordinary person. This exception has a positive as well as a negative aspect. The positive aspect is concerned with those situations wherein exceptions apply, and the negative aspect is concerned with the limitations to which exception is subjected to.


As the judicial proceedings are a matter of public interest, accurate reports of it have been afforded except defamation. The report must aim at representing all the information and occurrences precisely how they took place to the reader of such a report. It is not required that the report must be verbatim of the entire proceeding and in fact, it doesn't need to be complete. The nature of the proceeding and whether the court was competent for the hearing or not are all immaterial for the publication of such a report if it is fair and correct.


Protection has been attributed to case comments of the adjudicated decisions of cases when they are executed in a bonafide manner.


A says “I think Z’s evidence on that trial is so contradictory that he must be stupid or dishonest“ A is within this exception if he says this is in good faith in as much as the opinion which he expresses respects Z’s character as it appears in Z’s conduct as a witness and no further Illustration But if A says “I do not believe what Z asserted at that trial because I know him to be a man without veracity” A is not within this exception in as much as the opinion which he expresses of Z’s character is an opinion not founded on Z’s conduct as a witness.


A fair and honest discussion is essential for the history to transcend and science to advance. For that, the public must be allowed to make free criticisms of public performances that are submitted to its judgment. Hereunder are certain ingredients which must be complied with to afford the protection u under this exception:

1. Express or implied invitation by the author to the public for criticism, which he may do by basically just publishing his work although he might not distribute the same for review

  1. The criticism must be pertinent to the standard of the performance as distinguished from the basic capability of the performer
  2. Must be made in good faith


(a) A person who publishes a book submits that book to the judgment of the public.

(b) A person who makes a speech in public submits that speech to the judgment of the public.

(c) An actor or singer who appears on a public stage submits his acting or singing to the judgment of the public.

(d) A says of a book published by Z “Z’s book is foolish; Z must be a weak man Z’s book is indecent; Z must be a man of impure mind“ A is within the exception if he says this in good faith in as much as the opinion which he expresses of Z respects Z’s character only so far as it appears in Z’s book, and no further.

(e) But if A says “I am not surprised that Z’s book is foolish and indecent for he is a weak man and a libertine” A is not within this exception in as much as the opinion which he expresses of Z’s character is an opinion not founded on Z’s book.


Two essential elements are corresponding to this exception:

  • The critic must an authority to censure the person concerned
  • Existence of good faith in the censure

This privilege cannot be justified if the publication is done more than the purpose behind the emergence of such contempt. For example – a person might have just condemnation with regards to his subordinate, however, publishing censure related to the same in a newspaper destroys the privilege under this exception.


A Judge censuring in good faith the conduct of a witness, or of an officer of the Court; ahead of a department censuring in good faith those who are under his orders; a parent censuring in good faith a child in the presence of other children; a school-master, whose authority is derived from a parent, censuring in good faith a pupil in the presence of other pupils; a master censuring a servant in good faith for remissness in service; a banker censur­ing in good faith the cashier of his bank for the conduct of such cashier as such cashier.


The framers of the IPC observed with regards to this exception that: “We allow a person to prefer an accusation against another, in good faith, to any person who has lawful authority to restrain or punish the accused.”

Hereunder are two conditions which must be satisfied to avail the privilege of this exception-

1. Accusation to be made to the person in authority.

2. Existence of good faith.


If A in good faith accuses Z before a Magistrate if A in good faith complains of the conduct of Z, a servant, to Z’s master if A in good faith complains of the conduct of Z, a child, to Z’s father A is within this exception


This exception encompasses the first exception affixed to Section 499 which laid down for public good. This exception says that due protection must be availed to the communications of parties acting in good faith, in course of business and social intercourse. The veracity of every word published by the defendant is not necessary.

In Chaman Lal v. the State of Punjab[7]the Apex court has laid down certain principles to prove good faith about Exception 8 and 9 that have been enumerated hereunder which is required to be proved:

1. Circumstances when such words were uttered or letter was written.

2. Existence of malice.

3. Before making an allegation whether any inquiry was made.

4. Presence of reasonable ground to rely on the version of the accused that his actions complied with due care and caution.

5. Preponderance of probability that the act of the defendant complied with good faith.


(a) A, a shopkeeper, says to B, who manages his business “Sell nothing to Z unless he pays you ready money for, I have no opinion of his honesty” A is within the exception if he has made this imputation on Z in good faith for the protection of his interests

(b) A, a Magistrate, in making a report to his superior officer casts an imputation on the character of Z Here if the imputation is made in good faith and for public good A is within the exception


A person needs to establish that the imputations were as a result of ‘good faith’ and meant for ‘public good’. One is not required to prove beyond reasonable doubt and only proving a preponderance of probability discharges the onus from the accused.


A Judge censuring in good faith conduct of a witness or an officer of Court Ahead of a department censuring in good faith those who are under his orders A parent censuring in good faith a child in the presence of other children A schoolmaster, whose authority is derived from a parent, censuring in good faith a pupil in the presence of other pupils A master censuring a servant in good faith for remissness in service A banker censuring in good faith cashier of his bank for his conduct as such cashier is within the exception.


The person who defames another will be punished with simple imprisonment for upto 2 years or fine or both.

Section 501: Printing or engraving defamatory matter

The person who prints or engraves any matter knowing or having a good reason to believe that such matter is defamatory shall be punished with imprisonment for upto two years or fine or both.


This section punishes the person who sells or offers for sale any printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter knowing that it contains such matter. The person will be punished with imprisonment for upto two years or fine or both.

  • [1] Taki Hussain [1884] ILR 7 All 205
  • [2] AIR 1972 SC 2609
  • [3] [1935] Cr LJ 1039
  • [4] 1965 CriLJ 693
  • [5] 1970 AIR 1372
  • [6] AIR 1961 MP 205
  • [7] 1970 AIR 1372

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