Srinagar: The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on Wednesday quashed the defamation case filed by PDP leader Naeem Akhtar against Chief Editor and owner of Republic TV Arnab Goswami, Aditya Raj Koul, Zeenat Zeeshan Fazili and Sakal Bhatt.
The court also quashed down the trial proceedings against them after recording that the Chief Judicial Magistrate Srinagar has not applied his mind while proceeding in the matter.
The court of Sanjay Dhar in a 35-page judgement recorded that it is clear that for constituting an offence of defamation, it must be shown that the accused had intention or had reason to believe that such imputation would harm reputation of the complainant.
“Without intention or knowledge, the offence would not be constituted,” Justice Dhar held.
The court while dealing with the contentions of the case recorded the directions and observations made by the Supreme Court with respect to freedom of press and noted “we are faced with a situation where we have to balance the right of a public figure to his reputation and on the other hand the freedom of press which is encompassed in fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which is subject to certain restrictions including the one relating to defamation”.
Justice Dhar recorded that the press, which is the fourth pillar of democracy, has a duty to bring to the notice of the viewers and readers the day-to-day events, particularly those relating to public figures and public servants concerning their actions/omissions affecting the public at large.
The court recorded that in the instant case, it is not in dispute that Respondent (Naeem Akhtar) was holding the portfolio of Works Minister in the coalition Government of People’s Democratic Party and Bhartiya Janata Party during the period when Khalid Jahangir was holding the position of VC, JKPCC.
It is also not in dispute that said Khalid Jahangir addressed a communication dated 21 June 2018 to the then Governor of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, in which allegations of corruption and favouritism as regards award of tenders and functioning of the Corporation were made. The letter, however, does not name the Works Minister, who was at the helm of affairs at the relevant time.
“The dates to which reference is made in the letter clearly suggests that the Works Minister, referred to in the letter, is none other than the complainant,” the court noted and said that anyone who possesses even elementary knowledge of who is who of Jammu and Kashmir, can name the Minister who was holding portfolio of works during the period.
“So merely that the anchors of the programme mentioned the name of the complainant does not mean that they wanted to harm his reputation,” Court said.
Justice Dhar said after watching the news programme carefully contained in the compact disk does not find any imputation or any allegation having emanated from the presenters of the news programme.
Justice Dhar noted that in fact, upon watching the programme on the compact disk, it appears that the news anchors were at pains to emphasize the fact that their source of information is the letter in question and they go on repeatedly telling the viewers about the charges/allegations with each caption carrying question mark at its end, thereby conveying to viewers that the allegations/charges contained in the letter are yet to be established.
The court quoted Chief Justice, Cock Burn and noted “Those who fill a public position must not be too thin skinned in reference to comments made upon them. It would often happen that observations would be made upon public men which they know from the bottom of their hearts were underserved and unjust; yet they must bear with them and submit to be misunderstood for a time.”
The court while allowing the plea and the complaint titled Naeem Akhtar versus Arnab Goswami & others’ held that no offence is disclosed against the petitioners from the contents of the complaint and the material annexed thereto.
“Thus, the complaint and the proceedings emanating there from are quashed. Trial court record and a copy of the judgement be sent back,” court said and directed.