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  • The Hon’ble Kerala HC has held, in the case of Aroon Purie vs. State of Kerala and anr. that the directors of a Company cannot be held criminally liable without any specific averment which indicates their role in the offence committed. The Court relied on the fact that there was no section in IPC (Indian Penal Code) which provides for their vicarious liability.
  • In the instant case. On August 3, 2017 a news was aired on India Today which showed one Manikkuttan as the main accused in the murder of one Rajesh. Unfortunately, when the said news was telecasted, the picture shown in the channel was of the second respondent, Anil Kumar.
  • This was telecasted for three days consecutively with the same picture of Anil Kumar, a legal notice was issued to the petitioners. Subsequently, a complaint was filed by Anil Kumar before the Magistrate and the cognizance was taken.
  • Thereafter, the petitioners moved the HC seeking to get the proceedings in the lower Court quashed. The Counsels for the petitioners argued that the complaint did not disclose the commission of any offence by the petitioners as it failed to show how the petitioners were involved in preparing, editing or broadcasting the news item which is the subject matter of the aforesaid complaint.
  • It was further contended by the counsel for the petitioners that without any specific allegation, the Chairman and the Managing Director of the company were implicated as accused in the case. It was also argued that in criminal cases, the principle of vicarious liability does not arise unless specifically mentioned in the statute.
  • The Court observed that aside from the fact that the persons implicated in the case were Chairman and MD, CEO and the owner of India Today Ltd., the specific role played by these accused in the selecting, editing and telecasting of the said news item was not mentioned.
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  • The Court also relied on the judgement of the Hon’ble SC in K.M. Matthew vs State of Kerala and anr (AIR 1992 SC) where it was held that for a magistrate to take cognizance of an offence against the Chief Editor, there must be positive averments in the complaint of the fact that the said editor knew of the objectionable character of the published matter.
  • It was also observed that in the second explanation to section 499 IPC, an imputation against the said company or an association of persons may amount to defamation. It is not defamation within the meaning of that explanation if the imputation has been made by the company or the association of persons [Explanation 2 to section 499 states that It may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such].
  • The Court also observed that it is a well established principle of criminal law that a person cannot be held to be criminally liable on the basis of vicarious liability unless the statute specifically provides for the same. The Court also noted that the people who were actually responsible for the airing of the programme and for presenting it were not implicated as accused in the case.
  • Thus, in light of the aforesaid observations,the application was allowed and the proceedings in the lower court were quashed.
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