Defamation is injury to the reputation of a person. a person injures the reputation of another, he does so at his own risk, as in the case of an interference with the property. A man’s reputation is his property, and if possible, more valuable, than other property.
Libel and Slander
English Law : Mainly because of historical reasons, English law divides actions for defamation into Libel and Slander. Slander is the publication of a defamatory statement in a transient form. Examples of it may be spoken by words or gestures.
Libel is representation made in some permanent form, writing, printing, picture, effigy or statute.
In a cinema film, not only the photographic part of it is considered to be libel but also the speech which synchronizes with it is also a libel. In Youssoupoff v. M.G.M. Pictures Ltd., in the course of a film produced by an English Company called Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Ltd., a lady, Princess Natasha, was shown as having relations of seduction or rape with the man
Rasputin, a man of the worst possible character.
Slesser L.J observed “There can be no doubt that, so far as the photographic part of the exhibition is concerned, that is a permanent matter to be seen by the eye, and is the proper subject of an action for libel, if defamatory. I regard the speech which is synchronized with the photographic reproduction and forms part of one complex, common exhibition as an ancillary
circumstance, part of the surroundings explaining that which is to be seen.”
Section 1, Defamation Act, 1952 provides that broadcasting of words by means of wireless telegraphy shall be treated as publication in permanent form. Another test which has been suggested for distinguishing libel and slander is that libel is addressed to the eye, slander to the ear.
The matter recorded on a gramophone disc is addressed to the ear and not to the eye, but is at the same time in a permanent form. According to Winfield, it is a slander but according to some others,? it is a libel. Under English law, the distinction between libel and slander is material for two reasons :
- Under Criminal law, only libel has been recognized as an offence. Slander is no offence.
- Under the law of torts, slander is actionable, save in exceptional cases, only on proof of special damage. Libel is always actionable per se, without the proof of any damage.
In the following four exceptional cases, slander is also actionable per se:
- Imputation of criminal offence to the plaintiff;
- Imputation of a contagious or an infectious disease to the plaintiff, which has the effect of preventing other from associating with the plaintiff;
- Imputation that a person is incompetent, dishonest or unfit in regard to the office, profession, calling, trade or business carried on by him;
- Imputation of unchastity or adultery to any woman or girl is also actionable per se. This exception was created by the Slander of Women Act, 1891.
Indian Law : It has been noted above that under English criminal law, a distinction is made between libel and slander. There, libel is a crime but slander is not. Slander is only a civil wrong in England. Criminal law in India does not make any such distinction between libel and slander. Both libel and slander are criminal offences under Section 499, I.P.C.
It has also been noted above that though libel and slander both are considered as civil wrongs, but there is a distinction between the two under English Law. Libel is actionable per se, but in case of slander, except in certain cases, proof of special damage is required. There has been a controversy whether, slander like libel, is actionable per se in India, or special damage is required to be proved, as in England.
Essentials of Defamation
- The statement must be defamatory.
- The said statement must refer to the plaintiff. The statement must be understood by right thinking or reasonable minded persons, as referring to the plaintiff.
- The statement must be published, to say, it must be communicated to some person other than the plaintiff himself.
- In case of slander, either there must be proof of special damage or the slander must come within the serious classes of cases in which it is actionable per se.