Mathew Vs. K.A. Abraham & Ors  Insc 359 (23 August 2002)
Banerjee & K.G. Balakrishnan. K.G. Balakrishnan, J.
Appeal (crl.) 847 of 2002 Appeal (crl.) 848 of 2002
Hari Narain Nigam Padam Sambhav Jain & Anr. State of Bihar & Ors.
questions of law arise in these appeals; hence they are being disposed of by
this common judgment. Appellants are either Managing Editor, Chief Editor or
Resident Editor of their respective newspaper publications.
criminal complaints were filed against the appellants alleging that in their
newspaper publications, libellous matter was published and that these
appellants had knowledge and they were responsible for such publication and
thus they committed the offence of defamation besides other allied offences. In
all these cases, the Magistrate had taken cognizance of the offences and issued
summons to these appellants. The appellants challenged their prosecution and
contended that in view of Section 7 of the Press & Registration of Books
Act, 1867 (hereinafter referred to as "the Act"), they are not liable
to be prosecuted and that the Editor of the newspaper whose name is printed on
it as the "Editor" of that publication alone is liable to be
prosecuted for any of the offence for such libellous publication.
appellant in Criminal Appeal No. 701 of 1998 is the Chief Editor of
"Malayalam Manorma", a daily having wide circulation in Kerala and
to the appellant in this case, he is the Chief Editor of the "Malayalam Manorma"
and that there is also an Editor for this publication who alone can be charged
for the offence under Section 500 of Indian Penal Code in view of the statutory
presumption under Section 7 of the Act.
Criminal Appeal arising out of S.L.P. (Crl.) No. 399 of 2001, the appellant is
the Managing Editor of Indian Express, Jansatta and Financial Express and
certain other publications. A criminal complaint was filed against the
appellant and others alleging that on 21st January, 1992 a news item was published in "Jansatta"
which, according to the complainant, was defamatory and thus the appellant had
committed the offence under Section 500 IPC. The complaint was filed before the
Judicial Magistrate, Kota in Rajasthan.
appellant in the Criminal Appeal arising out of S.L.P. (Crl.) No. 520 of 2000
was the Resident Editor of a daily, namely, "Hindustan", and the
complainant therein alleged that some articles published on 7.12.1986 and
8.12.1986 in that newspaper ("Hindustan") were defamatory and thereby
the appellant committed offence under Section 500 IPC.
these cases, the respective Magistrate took cognizance of the offence alleged
in the complaint and issued process to the appellants and the appellants filed
petitions under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for quashing the
proceedings on the ground that they are not liable to be prosecuted for the
offence of defamation for the alleged libellous publication as they are not the
Editors of such publications. The plea raised by the appellants was not
accepted by the High Courts and the impugned orders passed in those proceedings
are challenged before us.
have heard learned counsel for the appellants as well as counsel for the
respondents. As noticed earlier, the contention of the appellants is that in
view of Section 7 of the Act, there cannot be any prima facie case against the
appellants and the Editor whose name is printed in such publications alone can
7 of the Press & Registration of Books Act, 1867 reads as follows :
Office copy of declaration to be prima facie evidence.In any legal proceeding
whatever, as well civil as criminal, the production of a copy of such
declaration as is aforesaid, attested by the seal of some Court empowered by
this Act to have the custody of such declarations, or, in the case of the
editor, a copy of the newspaper containing his name printed on it as that of
the editor shall be held (unless the contrary be proved) to be sufficient
evidence, as against the person whose name shall be subscribed to such
declaration, or printed on such newspaper, as the case may be, that the said
person was printer or publisher, or printer and publisher (according as the
words of the said declaration may be) of every portion of every newspaper
whereof the title shall correspond with the title of the newspaper mentioned in
the declaration, or the editor of every portion of that issue of the newspaper
of which a copy is produced." The expression "Editor" has also
been defined in Section 1 of the Act as under :
means the person who controls the selection of the matter that is published in
a newspaper." It is also relevant to quote Section 5(1) of the Act :
Rules as to publication of newspapers. No newspaper shall be published in India, except in conformity with the
rules hereinafter laid down:
Without prejudice to the provisions of section 3, every copy of every such
newspaper shall contain the names of the owner and editor thereof printed
clearly on such copy and also the date of its publication.
.." The preamble to the Act says that it is expedient to provide for the
regulation of printing presses and of newspapers, for the preservation of
copies of every book and newspaper printed in India and for the registration of such books and newspapers.
5 of the Act prescribes certain rules regarding the publication of newspapers.
It says that the newspaper shall contain the names of the owner and editor
printed clearly on each copy and also the date of its publication. Sub- section
(2) of Section 5 further says that the printer and the publisher of every such
newspaper shall appear in person before the District, Presidency or Sub-
divisional Magistrate and shall make a declaration that he was the printer or
publisher or printer and publisher of that newspaper.
also pertinent to note that Section 8A of the Act provides that if any person,
whose name has appeared as editor on a copy of a newspaper, may, within two
weeks of his becoming aware that his name has been so published, appear before
the District Magistrate and make a declaration that his name was incorrectly
published in that issue as the editor thereof, and the Magistrate empowered in
that behalf may conduct an inquiry and on such inquiry if it is found that the said
person is not the editor of the newspaper, the Magistrate may issue a
certificate to the effect that Section 7 will not apply to him.
conjoint reading of these provisions will go to show that in the case of
publication of any newspaper, each copy of the publication shall contain the
names of the owner and the editor who have printed and published that
newspaper. Under Section 7 of the Act, there is a presumption that the Editor
whose name is printed in the newspaper as Editor shall be held to be the Editor
in any civil or criminal proceedings in respect of that publication and the
production of a copy of the newspaper containing his name printed thereon as
Editor shall be deemed to be sufficient evidence to prove that fact, and as the
'Editor' has been defined as the person who controls the selection of the
matter that is published in a newspaper, the presumption would go to the extent
of holding that he was the person who controlled the selection of the matter
that was published in the newspaper. But at the same time, this presumption
contained in Section 7 is a rebuttable presumption and it will be deemed as
sufficient evidence unless the contrary is proved. Therefore, it is clear that
even if a person's name is printed as Editor in the newspaper, he can still
show that he was not really the Editor and had no control over the selection of
the matter that was published in the newspaper. Section 7 only enables the
court to draw a presumption that the person whose name was printed as Editor
was the Editor of such newspaper, if the publication produced in the court
shows to that effect.
contention of the appellants in these cases is that they had not been shown as
Editors in these publications and that their names were printed either as Chief
Editor, Managing Editor or Resident Editor and not as 'Editor' and there cannot
be any criminal prosecution against them for the alleged libellous publication
of any matter in that newspaper.
contention of these appellants is not tenable. There is no statutory immunity
against Managing Editor, Resident Editor or Chief Editor against any
prosecution for the alleged publication of any matter in the newspaper over
which these persons exercise control. In all these cases, the complainants have
specifically alleged that these appellants had knowledge of the publication of
the alleged defamatory matter and they were responsible for such publication; and
the Magistrates who had taken cognizance of the offence held that there was
prima facie case against these appellants. It was under such circumstances that
the summonses were issued against these appellants.
for the appellants relied on certain decisions to contend for the position that
under Section 7 of the Act, Editor alone shall be prosecuted for the
publication of any defamatory matter in a newspaper. One of the earliest
decisions relied upon is State of Maharashtra vs. Dr. R.B. Chowdhary & Ors. (1967) 3 SCR 708. This
was a case where the complaint was filed under Section 500 IPC against four
persons who were members of the Editorial Board of a Marathi daily. The Addl.
Sessions Judge held that there was a prima facie case against Respondents 2, 3
and 4, who were members of the Editorial Board and that they were the makers of
the alleged article published in the daily. These respondents contended that
the Editor was one Madane and when he was questioned under Section 342 Cr.P.C.,
he unequivocally admitted that he had written the defamatory article and his
name was shown as the Editor in the declaration made under Section 5 of the
Act. Under such circumstances, the court held that though the statement of Madane
under Section 342 was no evidence against these respondents as Madane alone was
shown as Editor, no presumption could be drawn against Respondents 2, 3 and 4.
We do not think that this decision has any application to the facts of the
present case as the decision turned mainly on the point that the Editor had
admitted the fact that he was responsible for the publication.
next case relied upon is Haji C.H. Mohammad Koya vs. T.K.S. M.A. Muthukoya
(1979) 1 SCR 664. This case arose out of an election petition.
election of the appellant to the legislative assembly was set aside on the
ground of corrupt practices. The allegation against the appellant was that he
was the Chief Editor of a Malayalam daily newspaper, by name, "Chandrika"
in which certain articles and cartoons were published which were intended to
create hatred between two classes of citizens and thus committed corrupt
practices. It was noted by the court that one Aboobaker was the printer,
publisher and editor of "Chandrika" and in the election petition
there was no averment to the effect that the appellant controlled the selection
of the matter that was published in the newspaper. It was in this background
that the court held that the appellant was not the Editor of the newspaper and
the presumption under Section 7 of the Act could be drawn only against the
person who was the Editor within the meaning of the Act and that there was no
justification to draw the presumption against the appellant who was the Chief
Editor. This decision also is of no help to the appellants to contend for the
position that the appellants cannot be prosecuted for the alleged offence
committed in respect of publication in these newspapers.
decision relied upon is K.M. Mathew vs. State of Kerala & Anr. (1992) 1 SCC
217. Here the accused was the Chief Editor and in the complaint against him
there was no averment except the motive attributed to him. That too was of
general nature. This Court held that the appellant who was the Chief Editor of
the daily newspaper in question was responsible for the general policy of that
daily and as the complaint did not contain any positive averments as to the
knowledge of the Chief Editor about the objectionable character of the matter,
the Chief Editor could not be proceeded against. Like the first two decisions
relied upon by the appellants, this decision also is of no assistance to them.
provisions contained in the Act clearly go to show that there could be a
presumption against the Editor whose name is printed in the newspaper to the
effect that he is the Editor of such publication and that he is responsible for
selecting the matter for publication. Though, a similar presumption cannot be
drawn against the Chief Editor, Resident Editor or Managing Editor,
nevertheless, the complainant can still allege and prove that they had
knowledge and they were responsible for the publication of the defamatory news
the presumption under Section 7 is a rebuttable presumption and the same could
be proved otherwise. That by itself indicates that somebody other than Editor
can also be held responsible for selecting the matter for publication in a
true that judicial process should not be an instrument of oppression or
needless harassment and the Magistrate while taking cognizance should be
satisfied that there is a prima facie case against the accused and at that he
should be circumspect and judicious in exercising discretion and should take
all relevant facts into consideration before issuing process and that
vindication of majesty of justice and maintenance of law and order in the
society are the prime objects of criminal justice and it shall not be the means
to wreak vengeance, but, at the same time, "the inherent power of the
court under Section 482 Cr.P.C. should be very sparingly and cautiously used
and only when the court comes to the conclusion that there would be manifest
injustice or there would be abuse of the process of the court, if such power is
not exercised. "So far as the order of cognizance by a Magistrate is
concerned, the inherent power can be exercised when the allegations in the
first information report or the complaint together with the other materials collected
during investigation taken at their face value, do not constitute the offence
alleged. At that stage, it is not open either to sift the evidence or
appreciate the evidence and come to the conclusion that no prima facie case is
made out." [See : State of Bihar vs. Rajendra Agrawalla (1996) 8 SCC 164.
grave illegality is committed, the superior courts should not interfere. They
should allow the court which is seized of the matter to go on with it. There is
always an appellate court to correct the errors. One should keep in mind the
principle behind Section 465 Cr.P.C.. Any or every irregularity or infraction
of a procedural provision cannot constitute a ground for interference by a
superior court unless such irregularity or infraction has caused irreparable
prejudice to the party and requires to be corrected at that stage itself.
Frequent interference by superior courts at the interlocutory stage tends to
defeat the ends of justice instead of serving those ends. It should not be that
a man with enough means is able to keep the law at bay. That would mean the
failure of the very system." [See: Santosh De & Anr. vs. Archna Gupta
& Ors. (1994) 2 SCC 420.
instant appeals, the complainant in each case has alleged that these appellants
who are either Managing Editor, Chief Editor or Resident Editor had knowledge
and were responsible for publishing defamatory matter in their respective
newspaper publications. Moreover, in none of these cases, the 'Editor' had come
forward and pleaded guilty to the effect that he was the person responsible for
selecting the alleged defamatory matter published. It is a matter of evidence
in each case. If the complaint is allowed to proceed only against the 'Editor'
whose name is printed in the newspaper against whom there is a statutory
presumption under Section 7 of the Act, and in case such 'Editor' succeeds in
proving that he was not the 'Editor' having control over the selection of the
alleged libellous matter published in the newspaper, the complainant would be left
without any remedy to redress his grievance against the real culprit. We are
not unmindful of the powers of the Court under Section 319 of the Code of
Criminal Procedure, but such powers are circumscribed by limitations.
not find any convincing reasons to quash the proceedings initiated against
these appellants and the Criminal Appeals are devoid of merits. They are
dismissed and the proceedings initiated against the appellants be continued in
accordance with law.