-Report by Rhea Mistry
The Bombay High Court Nagpur Bench in the case of Vijay Darda & Anr. v. Ravindra Gupta ruled that the media has their right to report on the registration of FIRs, arrest of persons, and filing of cases in the courts and quashed the FIR filed against Lokmat Media.
Lokmat Media is a daily newspaper publishing company in the State of Maharashtra. Mr. Vijay Darda (Applicant No. 1) is the Chairman of the Lokmat Media Pvt. Ltd. And Mr. Rajendra Darda (Applicant No. 2) is an Editor in Chief of the Lokmat Media Pvt. Ltd.
On 25th May 2016, Lokmat Media in their newspaper published a news item stating the FIR that had been then recently registered against Mr. Ravindra Gupta along with the officials. Mr. Ravindra Gupta felt the published news item was against him and filed a private complaint against Lokmat Media.
The complainant contended that the news/information published by the respondent’s firm i.e., Lokmat Media in their newspaper is allegedly published to defame the complainant. Mr. Ravindra Gupta felt aggrieved by the news information which was published and filed a private complaint against the Chairman and the Editor in Chief, of Lokmat Media i.e., Mr. Vijay Darda, and Mr. Rajendra Darda respectively. He stated that the information that Lokmat media had published was false, frivolous, and intending to defame him, damaging his reputation in society.
The complaint filed by, Ashok Gupta, who was also one of the accused in the FIR, was later produced to be untrue. He was not present at the time of the occurrence of the crime and was dismissed from the charge. The complainant had filed a private complaint before the court of judicial magistrates, first class. The complainants then proceeded to the court referring to the case of Prabhu Chawla v. the State of Rajasthan and Anr. (2016) 16 SCC 30 regarding section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The complainant filed the complaint alleging that the applicants have committed an offense under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, which provides the punishment for defamation and stated that the applicants should have investigated the matter thoroughly and made sure that the facts and information that were to be published were true and genuine.
Considering the accusations made by the complainant, the respondent contends that firstly, the information published by the Lokmat Media was only the information that a police report was filed, and an FIR was registered against Mr. Ravindra Gupta. There was no such news item published that could harm the reputation of the complainant and was not in accord with the police report.
The counsel of the applicants presented that under section 7 of The Press and Registration of Books Act,1867, the applicants are the chairman and editor-in-chief, not the editor of the newspaper. Considering this, the applicants are not responsible for the contents of the newspaper just because of the ownership. They do not know about every article and information published in their newspaper.
According to the Act, the person who is responsible for the content is the Editor as described in Section 1 of the act, which says “Editor” is the person who determines which content is to be published in the newspaper. The name of the editor is mentioned below the article in every newspaper. The editor of Lokmat Media is Dilip Tikhile and the person responsible for the content of the newspaper. The counsel also referred to the supreme court case K.M. Matthew v. the State of Kerela and Anr. (1992) 1 SCC 217. That the person who should be responsible is the editor only and not every person who is connected to the newspaper. On the acts of the employees, the owners and chairman cannot be held responsible for vicarious liability as referred to in the above case.
The counsel of the applicants also held that as the FIR is registered, it is published on the official website which is in the public domain, and the public has every right to know about the cases and registered FIRs. There was no such information that was not published. Relying on the supreme court case of Youth Bar Association v. Union of India and Anr. (2016) 9 SCC 473, the registration of crime is not a private affair anymore. This presented that the applicants did not commit any crime under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.
Bombay High Court Judgement
The bench considered all the points made by the complainant and the respondent and held that the person responsible for the content in the newspaper is the Editor and not the people who are connected or merely connected with the newspaper company.
The Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court on 20th June 2022 ruled that the media reporters have a right to report news information on the registered FIRs, arrests of persons, and cases filed as the information is in the public domain. It is the job of the media to let people know what is happening around the world. The order dated 16th January 2018 against the applicants is quashed and set aside. The criminal complaint against the applicants stands dismissed and disposed of.