New Delhi: Several legal luminaries and media personalities on Wednesday advocated an end to the defamation law in India.
They insisted that criminal defamation suites were preventing journalists, researchers and social and civil activists from carrying out their activities, generally perceived as threats by the corporates and the governments.
Senior lawyer Fali S. Nariman cited the example of England and the United States which terminated their defamation laws long ago, terming them as “restrictions on the freedom of speech”.
“There is no defamation law in England now. They abolished it long ago. Taking a cue from them, the US also brought a Speech Act recently which President Barack Obama signed,” Nariman said at the launch of a book ‘Sue the Messenger’ authored by senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.
Nariman said that “these countries feel that such laws obstruct peoples freedom of speech which is counted among the basic human rights in modern society”.
Senior lawyer Karuna Nandi batted for stronger self-regulation by the Indian media and said that filthy language used by some brings everyone on the defamation radar.
“It is the independent bloggers and freelancers not associated with big publications who are the most vulnerable as they get chased down by the corporates,” Nandi said while asserting that self-regulation by the Indian press will shield everyone from the defamation laws.
Public Relations honcho Dilip Cherian said that “criminal part of the journalists must be removed for everyone’s benefit”.
“There are some accredited criminals who blackmail business houses in the name of journalism. The news channels must do away with their toothless regulatory bodies and replace them with something more effective and with a larger clout,” Cherian said.
Environment activist Sunita Narayan said it is the social workers who remain at the receiving end of the defamation suites most of the times.
“I have seen people, especially women scientists and activists who are single mothers or at the fag end of their lives, being threatened by criminal defamation. Their defeat at the hands of corporates have threatened others working independently. So much so that they have given up on their research and activism,” Narayan said.
Thakurta, who moderated the discussion, vehemently opposed the defamation law.
He said that his book will act as a guide for journalists facing defamation cases.