30 September 2020

Chairman/Managing Director of a news channel/house can be held liable for publication of the offending news item only if he has any role in selecting the news and publishing the same with active knowledge and intent

Chairman/Managing Director of a news channel can be held liable for publication of the offending news item only if it can be shown that he was somehow concerned with publication of the defamatory news item and that he had active knowledge thereof. As held in S Nihal Singh & Ors. v. Arjan Das; 1983 Cri. L.J. 777, an individual cannot be asked to answer the charge of defamation merely because he happened to be the Chairman of a company which owns a newspaper, without there being any further evidence as regards his participation in the actual management and administration of the affairs of the company.[Para No.13]

    So, the whole concept of fastening liability hinges on knowledge. As held in Kalanithi Maran v. A Rathinaraj; 2017 SCC Online Mad 9723 and G K Mani v. New Generation Media Corporation (P.) Ltd; 2019 SCC Online Mad 8332, for fastening liability, what is of paramount importance is that knowledge has to be attributed to the accused person. In Kalanithi (supra), the petitioner is the Chairman-cum- MD of Sun TV Network Ltd. and the complaint was filed against him for telecasting an interview between the complainant and one person, on the allegation of falsity of the statement given in the news and consequently, the MD is equally responsible for telecasting such defamatory statement. The Hon'ble High Court held as below:-

Chairman/Managing Director of a news channel/house can be held liable for publication of the offending news item only if he has any role in selecting the news and publishing the same with active knowledge and intent
"Vicarious liability under Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, is not applicable to electronic media. Therefore, only general rule is applicable in the present case. To attract the offence of defamation, the imputation must have been made with the knowledge or intention or at least with reason to believe that it will harm the person concerned."[Para No.14]
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    In CNN-IBN7 v. Maulana Mumtaz Ahmed Quasmi; reported in 2017 SCC Online HP 1290, the Hon'ble Court held as under:-
"Unlike civil liability, the penal provisions have to be strictly construed, wherein, there is no vicarious liability in criminal law unless statute takes that within its fold and thus, the petitioners merely by virtue of their being Managing Director, Editor-in-Chief, Editor and Founder Editor-in-Chief would not make them vicariously liable for the acts of their employees."[Para No.16]
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    It is apposite to note that if no specific and direct provision providing for vicarious liability of directors/management is sketched with clarity, then the individuals in that bracket can be prosecuted only if there is direct evidence of their active role coupled with criminal intent. In Managing Director, Castrol India Ltd. v. State of Karnataka; (2018) 17 SCC 275, the Hon'ble Apex Court held that in absence of specific averment made in complaint alleging role of Director/Managing Director in commission of offence, criminal proceedings cannot continue.[Para No.18]

    In the present case, the allegation made in the complaint, so far as the present petitioner is concerned, is not at all specific, as to the role in selecting the news and publishing the same with her active knowledge and intent. In the light of above legal proposition laid down, no vicarious liability can be attributed to the present petitioner in absence of specific allegations, specific statute to embrace the accused for the offence of defamation. The learned trial Court has taken cognizance without proper application of mind, which is liable to be interfered into.[Para No.20]


Gauhati High Court

Dipannita Jaiswal
Vs.
State Of Assam

Decided 28/09/2020


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