Right to Freedom is one of the 6 fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. Article 19 of the constitution provides freedom of speech which is the right to express one’s opinion freely without any fear through oral, written, electronic, broadcasting or print medium.
However, this freedom of expression should be exercised with utmost maturity and care. Cases on abuse of this freedom are plenty; often used to hurl allegations on one’s opponent with ulterior motives.
In India if you decide to write a story containing allegations on an individual, you should try to avoid committing an offence of ‘libel’ (written defamation). Your story should not by any means come under the purview of Criminal law of defamation contained in sections 499 to 502 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Following are few exceptions to Sec. 499 which can be effective journalistic defence for you against any probable legal hassle which may occur:
- You should have enough proof to establish the truth of this allegation and also that it was made for the public good.
- If your allegation is regarding the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public functions, it shouldn’t go beyond that. Also, you should express the allegation as an opinion and not a statement of fact with sufficient ground to prove that it was expressed in good faith and in public interest.
- It will not amount to defamation if your story publishes a true report of the court proceedings or the result of any such proceedings, which is known as absolute privilege. However, you should ensure that this report is based on absolute truth and devoid of any unnecessary comments.
Precautions in general
Apart from the above mentioned legal precautions for writing allegations in India, here are some general precautions as well:
- Choice of words: Utmost care should be taken while choosing words to be used for reporting facts and allegations. Usage of words which might land you in trouble or question the legitimacy of the story should be avoided at all cost. Also, it is wise to evade from using homonyms i.e. words with more than one meaning.
- Avoiding ambiguity: When it is necessary to report unpleasant allegations, avoiding ambiguity is the way to go. This will minimise chances of confusion or misinterpretation arising out of the story. Also, being upfront and honest in letting the audience know of possible ambiguity in particular instances clears one’s stance; even if audience are jumping into any wrong conclusions.
- Usage of the words “accused” or “alleged”: Understand the clear difference in meaning between “accused” and “alleged.” Although, it is best to avoid these words altogether, should the need arise it is vital to use the right word. “Alleged” is used when someone is a suspect in a crime but has not been proven as guilty, whereas “accuse” can be used to forcefully assert something onto someone, whether it be true or not. The word “accuse” is also used when someone is charged with committing a crime based on reasonable proof.
- Giving attribution: Avoid reporting on information you are not certain to be true. As a rule of thumb, any information originating from sources other than your own first-hand observations should be attributed. This will insulate you from unnecessary trouble which might occur at a later stage.
Media’s power in influencing public opinion is immense; however, this power should be exercised responsibly and with restraint. When writing an allegation about an individual to be published on media, any mistake on the author’s part will most certainly invite trouble. Therefore, one must present the information in its truest form, devoid of prejudice and supposition.