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Sardar Bhagat Singh Akali Vs. Lachman Singh Akali - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectMedia and Communication;Criminal
CourtKolkata High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCriminal Appeal No. 121 of 1967
Judge
Reported inAIR1968Cal296,1968CriLJ759,73CWN1
ActsIndian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 - Section 499; ;Press and Registration of Books Act - Section 7
AppellantSardar Bhagat Singh Akali
RespondentLachman Singh Akali
Appellant AdvocateN.C. Banerjee, ;Mukti Prasanna Mukherjee and ;Durgapada Dutta, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateParimol Kumar Chatterjee and ;Dilip Kumar Banerjee (II), Advs.
DispositionAppeal dismissed
Cases ReferredState of Maharashtra v. Dr. R. B. Chowdhari Criminal Appeal No.
Excerpt:
media and communication - publication containing defamatory statements - accused acquitted by trial court - propriety of acquittal challenged - extent of the liability of the owner for defamatory statements published in the paper owned by him - held, owner could be made liable if he have direct responsibility for the publication of the defamatory statement and if he had intention to harm or knowledge or reason to believe that the imputation will harm reputation of person concerned - co owner does not have direct responsibility - responsibility lies on editor by virtue of section 7 of the press and registration of books act eventhough not directly responsible for defamatory statement published - appeal dismissed. - .....of criminal procedure against the acquittal of the respondent in that case the respondent was the owner of a journal in gurmukhi language named nabi probhat while the co-accused in the case giani bichittar singh was the editor, printer and publishei thereof. in two issues of that journal dated october 1 and october 6 1964 respectively the journal published two editorials containing defamatory statements about the complainant whichformed the basis of the charge framed against both the accused persons.2. the defence of the present respondent, as it-appears from his statement under section 342 of the code of criminal procedure, was that the editorial was written by the editor and that he had no guilt in the matter. he alleged that he had been impleaded in the case as the result of rivalry.....
Judgment:

T.P. Mukherji, J.

1. The complainant in a case under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code against the present respondent and one Giani Bichittar Singh filed this appeal with the special leave of the Court under Section 417 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure against the acquittal of the respondent in that case The respondent was the owner of a journal in Gurmukhi language named Nabi Probhat while the co-accused in the case Giani Bichittar Singh was the editor, printer and publishei thereof. In two issues of that journal dated October 1 and October 6 1964 respectively the journal published two editorials containing defamatory statements about the complainant whichformed the basis of the charge framed against both the accused persons.

2. The defence of the present respondent, as it-appears from his statement under Section 342 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, was that the editorial was written by the editor and that he had no guilt in the matter. He alleged that he had been impleaded in the case as the result of rivalry between two factions and that he has been the victim of that rivalry over control of the journal. The defence of the co-accused was a plea of justification.

3. The learned magistrate found on evidence that the statement was defamatory, that it was published with intent to injure the reputation of the complainant and that the co-accused Bichittar Singh was guilty as editor, printer and publisher for publishing that scurrilous statement. So far as the present respondent is concerned, the learned magistrate found that evidence has not proved that this accused had supplied information or direction to the other accused to publish the editorial or that he gave any directive in the matter of the publication thereof. On this finding, he acquitted the present respondent and it is the propriety of that acquittal which is challenged in this appeal.

4. Mr. Banerjee appearing in support of the appeal refers to the evidence of P.W 2 to the effect that the editorials were published by both the accused and that both the accused were responsible for the comments therein and urged that this evidence in the examination-in-chief of the witness concerned was not challenged in cross-examination. His further argument is that the respondent as the owner of the paper was responsible for the editorial policy thereof and that he was nowhere disassociated himself from the impugned publication. According to Mr Banerjee. the owner could not in the circumstances escape his liability under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code in this connection Mr. Banerjee also refers to an unreported decision in another case between the present appellant and the pre-sent respondent (Criminal Revn. Case No. 964 of 1966, D/- 19-9-1987 (Cal)) wherein the order of discharge of the respondent by the learned magistrate in that case under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code has been set aside and the case has been sent back for further enquiry with the observation that -

'It is difficult to say that the proprietor and the member of the Advisory Committee (the present respondent) had no control over the paper or did not shape its policy and it is difficult to agree with the learned Judge's view that in spite of being the proprietor and a member of the Advisory Committee he had no opportunity of influencing the publication of the defamatory matter'

5. The question before us is the extent of the liability of the owner for defamatorystatements published in the paper owned by him. Under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, the person responsible for defamation is the person who

'by words either spoken or intended to be read x x x makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will hurt the reputation if such person'

The owner in order to be liable under this section has to have direct responsibility for the publication of the defamatory statement and he must also have the intention to harm or knowledge or reason to believe that the imputation will harm the reputation of the person concerned. The owner of a journal qua-owner has thus no responsibility under the section The editor of the paper, even though he might not be directly responsible for a defamatory statement published in his paper attracts the responsibility by virtue of Section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books Act by virtue of his registration as editor under the Act which registration is sufficient evidence that he was also the printer or publisher or printer and publisher of the paper concerned. The printer and publisher by virtue of their duties as such cannot of course avoid the legal liability for defamation. The owner's liability will be attracted provided it can be shown that he was responsible for the publication with the necessary intent knowledge or reasonable belief in the matter.

6. I may refer in this connection to a Supreme Court decision (not yet published) in the State of Maharashtra v. Dr. R. B. Chowdhari Criminal Appeal No. 11 of 1965 dated April 19. 1967 (Since reported in : 1968CriLJ95 ). In that case, four persons who formed the Board of Editors of a journal were prosecuted for demafation of the Collector and District Magistrate of West Khandesh in the State of Bombay. The trying magistrate framed a charge against the editor registered under Section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books. Act and discharged the three other members of the Board of Editors. This order of discharge having been confirmed by the High Court, the matter went up to the Supreme Court on appeal by special leave and the question that the Supreme Court had to consider was whether respondents Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in the appeal had liability for defamation under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code in the matter of the impugned publication by virtue of their office as members of the Board of Editors It was held that the editor registered under the Press and Registration of Books Act by virtue of the presumption that Section 7 thereof carries against him would undoubtedly be liable for publication of the defamatory article, but the some presumption will not be available against anybody else. The principle at the back of the decision is that the editor, printer and publisher qua such have their liability under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, but in order to make others liable there has to be evidence as to their direct complicity in the matter, that is, that they had published the matter concerned with the necessary intent, knowledge or reasonable belief in the matter.

7. The owner by appointing an editor for editing the paper vests him with the responsibility for running that paper and also for carrying out his policy in that matter But, at the same time, the vesting of the responsibility means that the responsibility has to be carried out in a legal manner. If in carrying out that responsibility the editor does anything illegal, that illegality should not be attributed to the owner by virtue of his being the owner of the journal. So far as the present case is concerned, there is no doubt that the evidence of P. W. 2 referred to by Mr. Banerjee is material, but that merely is the opinion of the witness concerned. The basis for that opinion is not to be found in the evidence.

8. In view of the above, I would respectfully differ from the view of the learned Judge in the decision referred to by Mr. Banerjee and prefer to follow the un-reported Supreme Court decision referred to above by me. Considering the principle behind this decision, I cannot find that the acquittal of the respondent in this case was unjustified.

9. This appeal, accordingly, fails and itis dismissed.


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