He can’t blame Resident Editor for defamatory article

The Supreme Court has held that the Editor of a newspaper is responsible for every news item published in it and he cannot escape liability by putting the blame on the Resident Editor for publication of a defamatory article.

“From the scheme of the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, it is evident that it is the Editor who controls the selection of matter that is published. Further, every copy of the newspaper is required to contain the names of the owner and the Editor and once the name of the Editor is shown, he shall be held responsible in any civil and criminal proceeding. The presumption would be that he was the person who controlled the selection of the matter that was published. However, we hasten to add that this presumption under Section 7 of the Act is a rebuttable presumption and it would be deemed sufficient evidence unless the contrary is proved,” said a Bench of Justices C.K. Prasad and V. Gopalagowda.

Writing the judgment, Justice Prasad said: “A news item has the potentiality of bringing doomsday for an individual.” As the Editor controlled the selection of the matter, he had to keep a careful eye on the selection. “Blue-pencilling of news articles by anyone other than the Editor is not welcome in a democratic polity. Editors have to take responsibility for everything they publish and to maintain the integrity of published record. It is apt to remind ourselves of the answer of the Editor of The Scotsman, a Scottish newspaper. When asked what it was like to run a national newspaper, the Editor answered, ‘Run a newspaper! I run a country.’ It may be an exaggeration but it does reflect the well-known fact that it can cause far-reaching consequences in an individual and country’s life.”

The Bench said: “Section 7 of the PRB Act raises the presumption in respect of a person who is named the Editor and printed as such on every copy of the newspaper. The Act does not recognise any other legal entity for raising the presumption. Even if the name of the Chief Editor is printed, there is no presumption against him under Section 7.

In the instant case, Gambhirsinh R. Dekare, who was serving as Taluk Mamlatdar and Executive Magistrate, filed a case against Falgunbhai Chimanbhai Patel, Editor of Sandesh, a Gujarati newspaper. He alleged that a news item published in the Vadodara edition in September 1999 was defamatory and offending to himself and his family.

‘Indefensible judgment’

The trial court issued summons to the Editor. But Mr. Patel challenged the summons in the Gujarat High Court contending that since the Vadodara edition had a separate Resident Editor, Navinbhai Chauhan, he alone was responsible for publication of the news item and not the Editor, who was stationed in Ahmedabad. The High Court quashed the summons.

Allowing the appeal by Mr. Dekare against this ruling, the Supreme Court said, “The impugned judgment of the High Court is indefensible on both facts and law.” However, “any observation made by us in this judgment is for the decision in this case. It does not reflect on the merits of the allegation, which obviously is a matter of trial. The impugned judgment of the High Court is set aside and the trial court shall now proceed with the trial in accordance with law,” the Bench said.

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