HYDERABAD: Eminent jurists and civil liberties leaders here on Saturday opposed in strong terms the provisions of the hurriedly enacted Defamation Bill which makes serious inroads into the rights of the press and silences civil liberties activists.
While justice O. ChinnappaReddy retired judge of Supreme Court said that the Bill was undoubtedly meant to throttle the news” papers and prevent them from exposing public scandals the president of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, Mr. K.G. Kannabiran called upon journalists and the public to boldly continue their exposure of misdeeds of persons in authority without fear of the bogey of defamation and face the consequences collectively without allowing the state to isolate a few individuals and attack them.
In an exclusive interview, Mr. Chinnapa Reddy told ENS that almost all the “innovations” in the Bill, in the context of the recent political history and events are aimed at preventing the exposures of public scandals and smother investigative journalism by holding a virtual “sword of Damocles” over the heads of all newspapers.
“Investigative journalism must, I presume start with suspicion. If the facts discovered are not published as and when discovered because of a fear that the facts may involve an imputation which may ultimately turn out to be untrue and therefore he may be prosecuted investigative journalism will cease to perform its function,” he cautioned.
Moreover, the Bill placed the burden on the person who made the imputation for establishing that the imputation is true and has been made for public good. This was the reverse of the ordinary law of the land which placed the burden on the prosecution to prove that its facts were beyond reasonable doubt. The exceptions to this general rule were economic offenders who were well versed well informed and capable of taking care of themselves. There was no legitimate reason why this ordinary rule should be reversed in the case of newspapers.
Mr. Kannabiran said that the newly defined crime called criminal imputation dealt with in Chapter’ III of the Bill, was obviously “meant to silence the civil liberties and democratic rights activists. “This was evident from the stents of objects and reasons which said: “Those who make such imputations often have no intention of pursuing the matter any further with appropriate authorities. Their only intention appears to be to bring a person’s reputation into question.”
The civil liberties leader said that “pursuing the matter further” against the police or bureaucracy was only a “theoretical possibility.” The newly defined offence therefore sanctioned gross human rights violations by those in authority without fear or not only punishment but also exposure.
He felt that the provisions of the Defamation Bill are part of a scheme that commenced with the amendment to the National Security Act, “where a legal fiction results in forfeiture of liberty” and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) which subverts all accepted notions of criminal justice. Both these acts were enacted to silence political dissent, he pointed out.
Article extracted from this publication >> September 16, 1988