Right to reputation: India

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Everyone has a right to reputation: SC


The Times of India 2013/08/15

New Delhi: Everyone has a right to reputation, the Supreme Court observed on Wednesday, while restraining the counsel of an NGO from mentioning the names of persons figuring in the Niira Radia tapes.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said everyone had a right to reputation and restrained an NGO’s counsel from mentioning names of persons figuring in the Niira Radia tapes, a cache of intercepted telephone conversations between the former corporate lobbyist and politicians, industrialists, journalists and others.

When counsel Prashant Bhushan wanted to refer to Radia’s links in the 2G scam case, the court said, “Everyone has a right to reputation till a competent court gives a verdict.” After the Radia tapes had surfaced in the public domain, then Tata group chairman Ratan Tata moved the SC complaining of breach of his right to privacy and sought a probe into the leak of intercepted private conversations.

A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and V Gopala Gowda made the observation as it restrained advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO ‘Centre for Public Interest Litigation’, from referring to Radia’s links with industrial houses and a bureaucrat-turned-politician.

Everyone has a right to reputation till a competent court gives a verdict,” the bench said.

Bhushan had drawn the court’s attention to two conversations, one relating to Radia’s links with a big business house, and another relating to a conversation on how to manage a debate in Parliament, and said the court-appointed expert team had not looked into them.

He requested the court that the CBI should look into these two conversations and investigate the “clear-cut criminality” reflected in them.

After the Radia tapes surfaced in the public domain, the then chairman of Tata group Ratan Tata had moved the Supreme Court complaining of serious breach of his right to privacy. He had sought an inquiry into the leak of intercepted private conversations which the law required to be kept secret.

Are apologies sufficient amends?

Dhananjay Mahapatra, Do apologies, in public or on social media, resurrect damaged reputations?, March 19, 2018: The Times of India

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal represents a different breed of politicians. He had perfected guerilla warfare, both in public and on social media networks, with startling allegations as his preferred ammunition. Politicians feared him, because in this era and time, allegations carry more value.

Kejriwal and his colleagues, in early 2016, had hurled an allegation against Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia, who promptly filed a defamation suit. It is far easier to dabble in innuendoes than proving it in a court of law. Cornered by law and litigation, Kejriwal has apologised, albeit two years later. Majithia appears to have accepted the apology and promised to withdraw the defamation case.

Are apologies enough to mend damaged reputations? Does delay in tendering apology take away from sincerity and intent behind the regret? What about social media networks, especially Twitter, where all and sundry hurl innuendoes, abuses and allegations like tomatoes in Spain’s La Tomatina? Should there be a special law to deal with social media networks?

In India, where a dragging defamation case adds salt to wounded reputation, Sections 499 and 500 of IPC (criminal defamation) or a civil suit for damages are no solution to rein in disparaging comments on social media hurled from fake handles. In India, apologies come not from the heart or conviction, but only when the offender gets cornered by litigation or political expediency.

For the November 1984 anti-Sikh carnage, it took Congress more than 20 years to issue an apology. Then PM Manmohan Singh had said in 2005, “I have no hesitation in apologising to the Sikh community.” For the 2002 post-Godhra riots, a formal apology is yet to come though Narendra Modi had said in 2013, “Anyway you look at it, it was a shameful blot on the image of Vibrant Gujarat.”

In legal circles, apologies are not considered an acceptable method to avoid legal consequences in a defamation case, though it may help reduce the rigour of penalty. This is because an apology may assuage hurt but not mend the damaged reputation.

Indian constitutional courts, in general, let off a person facing contempt proceedings for disparaging remarks against a judge or judiciary, if the person tenders unqualified and unconditional apology. In defamation cases, an apology reflecting that “the offender is sorry and says so publicly” helps release the steam. But apology has many hues and contexts — from simply saying sorry to acknowledging the wrongdoing and taking full responsibility for the fallout.

In the famous New York Times vs Sullivan case, the US Supreme Court in 1964 imposed a higher standard for a public servant to seek damages against a person who makes defamatory remarks against her/him. Under this standard, public official plaintiff must show that

the defendant acted with knowledge that the allegations were false or made with reckless disregard of truth.

But 10 years later, the same US SC in Gertz vs Robert Welch refused to extend the same standard to defamation cases involving private individuals, saying they were more vulnerable to injury from defamation. The crux of this judgment was public officials had an opportunity to rebut fallacies, which was not available to private individuals.

Last year, UK’s High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, gave a trend-setting judgment in Jackie Monroe vs Katie Hopkins, which will serve as a lesson for Twitter gladiators with hired troll armies across the world.

Monroe sued Hopkins for a disparaging tweet that featured during a war of words over Twitter after the Conservative Party formed government in May 2015 followed by a violent ‘anti-austerity’ demonstration which vandalised Memorial to the Women of World War II in Whitehall.

Indians, who often come across virulently disparaging tweets, will find Hopkins’s tweet harmless and ignorable. After vandalisation of the memorial, Hopkins tweeted, “@MsJackMonroe scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got any more medals?” It was re-tweeted several times and Monroe was trolled heavily. In reply, Monroe tweeted, “I have never ‘scrawled on a memorial’. Brother in RAF. Dad was a Para in the Falklands. You are a piece of shit.”

The exchanges thereafter reflected Monroe requesting Hopkins to delete the abusive tweet, followed by a demand for an apology and a donation of 5,000 pounds for charity. Hopkins deleted the tweet two hours later, did not donate, and posted another tweet, “Can someone explain to me - in 10 words or less - the difference between irritant @PennyRed and social anthrax @Jack Monroe”

Monroe sued Hopkins after newspapers published articles on the unsavoury exchange. Hopkins later tried to make amends by posting a tweet, partially on the lines suggested by Monroe, to admit she was confused about the identity and that she got it wrong. Dissatisfied, Monroe continued with the proceedings. The UK HC rejected Hopkins’s defence that the tweet was deleted after two hours and had limited public life. It said, “Any tweet disappears from reader’s view as time goes on. But this is a weak point. What matters, when considering transience, is not the period of time for which a person is exposed to the message but the impact the message has. It is a commonplace of experience that live broadcasts can have a powerful impact even if the viewer sees them only once. Print copies of newspapers are not often read more than once.”

The HC was also unimpressed by Hopkins’s “I got it wrong” tweet shorn of apology and was convinced that she caused “serious harm” to Monroe’s reputation. It asked Hopkins, who had not responded to the 5,000 pounds donation demand, to pay 24,000 pounds as damages to Monroe.

To check unguided missiles and hired troll armies, Indian courts need to take a leaf out of the UK HC’s decision.

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