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Mathrubhumi defamation suit: Supreme Court closes matter after both parties agree to settlement, case against Kerala Finance Minister to continue

The Supreme Court on Tuesday closed the defamation suit filed by businessman Santiago Martin against Managing Editor, Managing Director and Joint Managing Editor of Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumi, after both the parties agreed to a settlement.

The Bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice A.S. Oka closed the case after Mathrubhumi agreed to publish the apology. 

Appearing for Mathrubhumi, Senior Advocate K.V. Vishwanathan today submitted that a clarification has been published.

The argument was rejected by Senior Advocate Aryama Sundaram, representing Martin. Sundaram said this was an apology for an apology. This was not fair.

Justice Kaul agreed that it was indeed ‘an apology for the sake of an apology’.

Vishwanathan then sought for a pass over. When the matter was taken up after being passed over, both the parties agreed to a certain statement to be published in Mathrubhumi newspaper.

Sundaram then said that it should be called as ‘apology’ and not ‘clarification’.

Justice Kaul suggested to publish it as a statement.

The Supreme Court then observed that as the parties had agreed to settle the matter, the current proceedings have been closed, with the direction that the publication will take place within seven days.

Taking into consideration the appeal made by Sundaram, the Bench directed that the litigation between the newspaper, including its official and Martin had come to an end with the present order. 
However, the proceedings pertaining to the complaint against Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Issac would continue, it added.

Martin had filed the defamation suit against the Managing Editor, Managing Director and the Joint Managing Editor of Mathrubhumi, in relation to an article published in the newspaper. 

The Malayalam publication then moved the Supreme Court, challenging an order of the Sikkim High Court, which refused to quash summons issued by a Gangtok Magistrate against its Managing Editor, Managing Director and Joint Managing Editor.

Martin had filed the complaint in 2020 under Sections 499, 500, 501, 502 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code in connection with an article in the nwespaper, which quoted the then Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Issac as saying, “lottery mafia like Santiago Martin will not be allowed to operate in Kerala”.

Martin had accused the publication and its management of conspiring to publish articles in the daily newspaper and its online version with the sole intention of causing damage to his name and reputation.

The Sikkim High Court had earlier dismissed a petition filed by the Mathrubhumi Printing and Publication Company Limited and others, stating that there was no ground whatsoever to interfere with the order passed by the trial court.

It even rejected the argument that the Editors could not be proceeded against without the complainant having made out a prima facie case that they had at least personal knowledge about the contents of the item before it was published.

Mathrubhumi had contended that the news item was published by them in a bona fide manner, believing the version of the Minister to be true and was a report in respect of the opinion of a public servant, regarding a public question and public policy and therefore privileged by Section 499 of the IPC.

On December 2, the Apex Court had expressed its displeasure over the usage of term ‘Mafia’ by Mathrubhumi for Martin. The Bench had observed that it could not ‘appreciate’ the use of such ‘adjective’.

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