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Madras High Court directs Dinamalar Tamil newspaper to respect leaders when writing on them

The Counsel for the petitioners submitted that even if the allegations made in the complaint are taken as it is, the same does not constitute defamatory allegations with respect to the act or conduct of the then Chief Minister in discharge of her public functions and at the best it can only be treated as a personal defamation.

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The Madras High Court has directed the publisher of a Tamil newspaper to ensure they treated leaders of the country or the state with respect when publishing news or other matters about them.

Justice V. Bhavani Subbaroyan passed this order in the petition filed by the newspaper Dinamalar in the matter related to former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa where the newspaper had referred to the former CM as just J.

The petition has been filed to quash the proceedings initiated against the petitioners for an offence punishable under Section 500, 501 of Indian Penal Code. During the last hearing, it was informed before the Court that the 1st petitioner, R. Krishnamurthy, died on March 4, 2021 and therefore, this Court has “dismissed the petition as abated” insofar the 1st petitioner is concerned vide order dated April 19, 2021.

The complaint has been filed through the City Public Prosecutor under Section 199 (2) of CrPC.

The Counsel for the petitioners submitted that even if the allegations made in the complaint are taken as it is, the same does not constitute defamatory allegations with respect to the act or conduct of the then Chief Minister in discharge of her public functions and at the best it can only be treated as a personal defamation.

The Counsel further submitted that such a complaint cannot be maintained through the City Public Prosecutor and it does not satisfy the requirements under Section 199(2) of CrPC.

The Counsel for Government appearing on behalf of the respondent submitted that the publishers have indulged in making wild allegations against the then Chief Minister and thereby have defamed her name in the eyes of the general public.

The Counsel submitted that the petitioners in the name of freedom of press cannot make such defamatory and derogatory allegations against the former Chief Minister and the petitioners will have to necessarily face the trial before the Court below and prove their innocence.

The Court has carefully considered the submissions made on either side and the materials available on record. Section 199(2) of Cr.P.C., provides a special procedure with regard to the initiation of proceedings for prosecution for defamation of a public servant. However, to maintain such a prosecution, the allegations must directly touch upon acts or conduct of the concerned servant in discharge of his or her public function. If the defamatory statement is personal in nature, this special procedure will not apply and it is only the concerned person who has to file the complaint in his or her individual capacity. The law on this issue is well settled and the counsel for the petitioners has rightly relied upon the judgments mentioned supra, the Court said.

The Court stated that,The allegations based on which the criminal complaint was filed and which has been extracted supra, does not in any way touch upon the conduct of the aggrieved person in discharge of her public function. The allegation even if taken as it is, only can be construed as a personal defamation.

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Therefore, the complaint that was filed by the City Public Prosecutor cannot be maintained since it does not satisfy the requirements of Section 199(2) of CrPC. It is seen that this complaint is pending from the year 2016 onwards without any progress. No useful purpose will be served by keeping this complaint pending.

“The Court has absolutely no hesitation to quash the proceedings, on the file of the Principal Sessions Judge, Chennai insofar as the 2nd petitioner is concerned and accordingly, the same is quashed. Further, the petitioner’s Newspaper is directed to refrain from printing matters in a disrespectful manner. It has been stated ‘J’, when the said person was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and should have been addressed as Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa and not as ‘J’. While printing and publishing matters with regard to the leaders of the Country or State, the Petitioners are supposed to give respect and address them accordingly”, the order reads.

Accordingly, the criminal original petition is allowed. Consequently, connected miscellaneous petitions are closed, the Court ordered

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