Defamation Meaning | Types And Essentials Of Defamation


The word 'Defamation' is derived from French language ' diffamacio' and directly from the medieval Latin 'diffamation' means 'to spread abroad by ill report and make a scandal of'. 


The word first time came to be known in the 14th century but in India the Defamation laws first time conceived by Lord Macaulay in the year 1837 in the first draft of the IPC and subsequently codified in the year 1860. 

The reason behind criminalising the defamation at the time of British India was connected with the interest of British raj to maintain the public order and the security of the state. Later on, the section 499 of the IPC was enacted to criminalize this act . Defamation can be both civil as well as a criminal wrongs. Section 499 of the IPC Indian penal code 1860 gives the  definition of defamation and section 500 talks about the punishment with simple imprisonment for a term of two year or fined or both. 

Meaning of Defamation

Defamation  means 'to injure someone's reputation'  by a statement which is not true it is believed that man's repetition is treated as his property and if someone damage to his property then he is liable under law in the same way if someone injures  the reputation of person the then he is liable under law. So reputation means the status of an individual in the eyes of prudent man and in the society every man has right to protect his or her reputation.

Meaning of defamation in criminal law

According to Section 499 of the Indian penal code 1860 which says that 'if a person by words either spoken or intended to read or by sign or by visual representation makes or  published the aforementioned concerning any person with an intention to harm or having knowledge that such imputation will cause harm to the reputation of such person is said to defame that person.

Types of Defamation

1. Libel-  

Libel form of defamation means a representation which is made in permanent.  Example-  it may be in form of writing printing, movie, etc.

2. Slander - 

Slander form of defamation means a publication of defamatory statement which is in transient form. Example-  it may be in the form of spoken words or gestures.

3. Innuendo -

That form of defamation which is prima-facie innocent but because of the some latent/hidden or secondary meaning  this statement may be considered to be a defamatory .

Example-  if a lady have given birth to a child it may be a different matter if lady is not married. 

So libel is always addressed to the eyes and slander is always address to the ear.  if we talked about it  in english criminal law then libel is only considered as an offence whereas slander is not an offence but Indian Penal Law, Libel and Slander both are considered to be an office under section 499 and 500 of IPC Indian penal code 1860. And in torts law, libel is actionable per se and slander is actionable.

Essentials of Defamation

There are three essential which should be fulfilled to make the act as an offence of defamation. 

1. They must be defamatory statement.

This is the first essential for the offence of defamation that they must always be defamatory statement which tends to lower the reputation of a person in the eyes of right thinking people. So  the test  to determine whether a statement is defamatory or not it will depend on the right thinking members of the society. 

Example- X published and advertisement in newspaper stating false information that the company of Y has committed fraud and now this statement will amount to a defamatory as the newspaper will read by many people and will definitely injures the reputation of Y's company.

But it should be remember that if words are spoken in anger then it will not amount to defaming any person. 

Example- X an employer who scolds his one of his employee for coming late in the office in front of the whole staff then the employee cannot file the case of defamation.

Case - Ram Jethmalani vs Subramanian Swamy 2006

In this case, the court said that Dr. Swamy is liable for defamation as he said that Mr Jathmalani has received the money from a banned organisation to protect the CM of Tamil Nadu in the case of assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

2. The defamatory statement must always refers to the plantiff. 

Here, The plantiff has to prove that the statement for which he is complaining referred to him. So, the intention of the defendant does not matter. It is not necessary that the name of plantiif is mentioned if it is still be recognised . The statement can be expressed or implied.

Case - Newstead vs. London Express Newspaper,1940

The defendant has published an article said that Herald Newstead, a camberwell man is convicted and this story was true of Harold Newstead at camberwell Barman.  And the  action was bought by another Herald Newstead a camberwell Barman and the defendant was held liable.

3. The defamatory statement must always be published.

This is one of the important essential of defamation, as there is no publication of the statement then no action for defamation can arises. The statement must always communicate to third person. If the statement is sent to the plantiif and read by someone else then it will be a valid publication. If any defamatory statement is written any personal diary or sent personally then it will not amount to defamation. 

Case - Mahendra Ram vs. Harnandan Prasad 1958

The fact of the case was that A sent a defamatory letter which was written in Urdu language to B and B did not aware of the Urdu language so it will be read by any third person here A will held liable only when it is proved that a at the time of writing letter knew that B does not know the Urdu language and will definitely read by someone else.

Explanation Under Section 499

There are four explanation given under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code 1860.

1. Defamation of the dead person

This explanation talks about that the imputation is not only made to deceased person in fact it must also be hurtful to the feelings of his near relatives like friends, parents etc.

2. Defamation of a company or a collection of person

In this case, if a particular statement are spoken to the group of persons or class of person then the case for the defamation  cannot brought only by a single person of the class or a group unless he can prove that the spoken statement is particularly referred to him.

3. Defamation of person by Innuendo

Innuendo is a form of defamation in which statement made is prima-facie innocent but because of some latent or secondary meaning it may be considered as defamatory. Under section 499 of IPC to defame any person by innuendo is a criminal offence.

4. What is Harming Reputation?

This explanation talks about how a person may be harmed. The reputation of person is harmed when an act injures or lower the character of a person in the eyes of the right thinking member or people of the society.

In the eyes of law it is considered that husband and wife are the one person and communication made in any defamatory  matter is not publication and will not held liable under section 499 of the IPC. According to Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, which deals with privilege that the communication made between husband and wife is out of the scope of 499 of the IPC except in suits between married person or in a proceeding in which one married person is prosecuted for any crime committed against the other person.

Also Read-

Defences for the Defamation

These are the defenses in which a person is not liable for the offence of the defamation. 

1. Justification of Truth

In the case of civil action the statement made is true then it will complete a defence because law does not permit a person to recover damage for which is true. But in Criminal Law it is not a good defence because here the defendant has to prove that the statement was made for public good. If he is not able to prove then he cannot take the benefit of this defence.

2. Fair Comment

There should be a fair comment in the matters of public interest then it will be valid defence. This statement must a comment means it can be an expression of opinion rather than an assertion of fact. The comment must be fair means it should be a true statement.  

The matter which is commented is of public interest like it can be related to court, public meeting, textbook, department etc.

3. Privilege

Privilege means 'to give special status to someone'. Privilege is of two types -

1. Absolute Privilege- 

In this case a person who is speaking hale have complete immunity under the absolute privileges and cannot held liable for the defamation . Absolute privilege can be used in the case of parliamentary preceedings given under section 105(2) and judicial proceedings.

2. Qualified- 

In this case the statement should be without a malice means a wrongful intention.


So Here , i would like to conclude by saying that the speech and expression as given under article 19(1)(a) which provides  to  all the citizens to freedom of speech and expression and this speech and expression is reasonably restricts. As it is considered the right to reputation is more valuable than the other things then the protection of reputation  is considered to be a reasonable restriction. Everyone has right to protect his reputation in the right thinking members of the society.

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