To ensure that journalists do not face criminal proceedings for anything published or broadcast by them, the government is considering a proposal to make amends to the law on defamation.
“We are considering a proposal to decriminalise defamation to the extent it applies to journalists. The endeavour is to save them from malicious prosecution since there is no criminal motive involved in their professional duties,” law minister M Veerappa Moily said.
“We are working on a proposal to convert it into a civil wrong on the limited aspect where it applies to journalists,” the minister said.
Moily said he was hopeful that a solution would be found soon since the ministry was contemplating discussions with all the stakeholders on this issue, including the judiciary and the Press Council of India.
“Those who fight for justice should not be denied it and I feel the reporters trying to expose corruption and social menaces need some protection. They cannot be hounded by those holding positions of power,” the minister said.
The proposal follows a longstanding demand from various media organisations that the government should amend old laws, which act as a deterrent in the way of fearless journalism.Defamation is currently a criminal offence in India, defined under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Anybody held guilty of defamation faces a maximum jail term of two years and a fine.
“We may look at some other related offences in the existing laws, which may require tweaking,” Moily said.
Like in the western democracies, the ministry wants to shift the burden of proof on the complainant.
“Those who allege that they have been defamed, may have to prove how their reputation has been harmed,” the official said.