“He Deserves Much More. Let Him Suffer”: SC upholds conviction of Journalist for publishing Defamatory Articles against an Advocate

In the case of D. S. Vishwanatha Shetty v. T. N. Rathnaraj, the Karnataka High Court had convicted the accused Journalist and editor (the petitioner) for publishing defamatory articles against an Advocate, wherein the High Court upheld the conviction order of the Trial Court (passed in 2009) in 2015 under Section 501 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Criminal Defamation); however, the High Court modified the order of the Trial Court to simple imprisonment of one month with a fine of Rs. 50,000. The High Court ordered the journalist to pay a compensation of Rs. 40,000 to the advocate (T. N. Rathnaraj) and along with a compensation of Rs. 10,000 to the state. Advocate Sanjay M. Nuli appearing on behalf of the petitioner contended that the imprisonment of the journalist would infringe the freedom of the press whilst violating the journalist’s fundamental right to free speech and expression within Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. It is worth noting that the editor of Tunga Varthe, Kannada-language weekly newspaper published an article in 2008 where he called T. N. Rathnaraj a goon for allegedly preparing multiple sale deeds for the transfer of lands belonging to SCs and STs without the explicit permission of the government officials by forging official documents. The three-judge divisional bench of the Supreme Court of India of Chief Justice N. V. Ramana, Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Surya Kant upheld the High Court’s decision by holding, “Let him suffer.” The bench noted the yellow journalism held by the accused against the advocate, wherein the bench added, “We have to protect lawyers too. One month is very less. He deserves more than that” The bench held that the language used by the accused was not in line with what journalism truly stands and that the one-month sentencing was very lenient. “This is the language and you claim you are a journalist?” observed the bench.

The bench dismissed the petition of the accused whilst directing him to surrender before the trial court within a period of two weeks of the announcement of the said judgement of the bench to serve the sentence of one month, wherein the bench warned the accused that the failure to present himself before the said trial court would attract appropriate steps from the police authorities.

The bench decided to uphold the verdict of the Karnataka High Court.

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