The Calcutta High Court recently intervened in proceedings involving an FIR filed against ‘Bongo TV’ journalist Rojina Rahaman for conducting an interview with a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Councillor, who expressed critical views regarding a former Trinamool Congress (TMC) Member of Parliament (MP). The FIR, lodged under Sections 500 and 505 (2) r/w Section 120B IPC, alleged that the journalist’s news channel disseminated misleading and false statements about the former TMC MP, Kunal Ghosh.
The allegations stemmed from an interview conducted by Rahaman with Sajal Ghosh, a BJP councillor and social media panelist, wherein Ghosh made derogatory remarks about the former TMC MP (respondent no 6), accusing him of various wrongdoings. The FIR accused Rahaman of airing this interview to create confusion and defame respondent no. 6, leading to a notice issued under Section 41-A by the police authorities. Challenging this notice, Rahaman approached the High Court.
Rahaman’s counsel argued that as a journalist, she merely conducted an interview with a political figure from the opposition party, and she couldn’t be held accountable for the statements made by the interviewee. The defense strongly contended that no prima facie case was established against Rahaman since the individual making the contentious remarks was not named as an accused in the case.
However, the counsel representing respondent no. 6 argued that a prima facie case was established against the journalist, opposing her plea to quash the proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution.
Justice Jay Sengupta noted that the Court has the authority to quash criminal proceedings under Article 226 and emphasized the duty to scrutinize the FIR in such matters more closely. The Court found it surprising that the person allegedly making the insinuations was not named as an accused, placing the sole responsibility on the journalist.
Additionally, the Court highlighted that a case of defamation should be filed through a petition before a Magistrate and not by way of an FIR, citing the Subramanian Swamy vs. Union of India case (2016). Moreover, the Court noted that the invocation of Section 505 (2) IPC was unjustified as there were no distinct groups between which enmity could be incited on grounds of race or religion based on the alleged remarks.
1. Section 500 IPC – Defamation:
– Explanation: Section 500 deals with the offence of defamation. It defines defamation as any imputation that harms the reputation of a person, either by words spoken or intended to be read or by visible representations. The act of making such imputations can lead to a person’s imprisonment or imposition of a fine or both if found guilty.
– Elements: To establish defamation under this section, three elements need to be proven:
– The accused made or published an imputation concerning another person.
– The imputation was made with the intention of harming that person’s reputation.
– The imputation caused damage to the reputation of the person concerned.
– Punishment: The punishment for defamation under Section 500 IPC is imprisonment for up to two years, a fine, or both.
2. Section 505(2) IPC – Statements Conducing to Public Mischief:
– Explanation: Section 505(2) deals with making statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to incite people to commit an offence against the state or public tranquility or to create enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, etc.
– Elements: To establish an offence under this section, it is necessary to prove:
– Making, publishing, or circulating any statement, rumor, or report.
– The intent behind such an act is to cause fear or alarm to the public or to incite people to commit an offence against the state or public peace.
– The act should be likely to cause public mischief or promote enmity between different groups.
– Punishment: The punishment for an offence under Section 505(2) IPC can extend up to three years of imprisonment, or a fine, or both.
3. Section 120B IPC – Criminal Conspiracy:
– Explanation: Section 120B deals with the offence of criminal conspiracy. It criminalizes an agreement between two or more persons to commit an illegal act or an act that is not illegal by illegal means.
– Elements: For this offence to be established, it is essential to prove:
– An agreement between two or more persons.
– The agreement was to commit an illegal act or an act by illegal means.
– One of the parties to the agreement performed an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.
– Punishment: The punishment for criminal conspiracy under Section 120B IPC varies based on the substantive offence involved in the conspiracy.
Consequently, the High Court stayed the proceedings in the FIR and scheduled the matter for a final hearing on January 19, 2024, under the heading ‘For Orders.’ The Court’s intervention centered on the procedural aspects of filing a case for defamation and the absence of sufficient grounds under Section 505 (2) IPC, aiming to ensure a fair and lawful resolution of the matter.