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India: The Modi Question [BBC Defamation Case]


According to an order from a single judge bench presided over by Justice Sachin Datta on 22.05.2023, Monday while issuing notice to both the BBC India and the BBC, the UK’s national broadcaster, It was claimed by the plaintiff that the defendant no. 2 (BBC) has produced a two-episode news documentary titled India: The Modi Question.

It says that the two episodes were released in January 2023. It is alleged that the aforementioned publication/documentary contains material that disparages the nation and makes false and defamatory accusations against the Indian Prime Minister, the Indian judiciary, and the Indian criminal justice system.[1]

Justice Sachin Datta issued notice to BBC on the indigent person application filed by a Gujarat-based NGO, Justice on Trial, and listed it for hearing on 25 September.

Senior Advocate Harish Salve appearing for the NGO, the plaintiff alleged that the two part documentary has defamed the country, including the judiciary.


An indigent person is one who is not possessed of sufficient amount to enable him to pay the fee prescribed by law for the plaintiff in such a suit. Order XXXIII of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 saves indigent persons by way of discharging them from the liability to pay the required court fees.

Order XXXIII permits the destitute, impoverished, and downtrodden, who meet the criteria of an indigent person as provided by Order XXXIII, to seek justice by exempting them from paying the required Court fees. Order XXXIII further authorizes such poor people to file a suit in their own name.


Defamation refers to the act of making false statements that harm the reputation of an individual or entity.

It typically involves two forms:

  • slander, which is spoken defamation
  • libel, which is written or published defamation.

Defamation laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, including specific elements that must be proven for a defamation claim to succeed.

Defenses to Defamation

  • Truth: If the statement made is true, it generally serves as a complete defense against a defamation claim.
  • Privilege: Certain statements made within specific contexts, such as in court proceedings or legislative debates, may be protected by qualified or absolute privilege.
  • Fair comment/opinion which is bona fide : Nothing that is a valid statement on a topic of public interest is defamatory. When the defendant has only made a reasonable observation in a topic of public interest, he may use this defence. This defence is founded on public policy, which accords everyone the freedom to remark on and critique without malice anybody else’s work or actions, including those of public offices, actors, authors, sports, and others whose careers depend on public notice.

Expressing an honest opinion based on disclosed facts or public interest is generally protected, as long as it is not presented as a statement of fact.

  • Consent: If the allegedly defamed party consented to the publication of the statement, it may serve as a defense.[2]

Analysis of Defamation in this case:

It is a civil suit in this case. So no Criminal defamation is charged according to IPC 499 and 500.

The Court of Appeal determined in Slim v. Daily Telegraph [Slim v Daily Telegraph [1968] 1 All ER 497] that a newspaper’s accurate portrayal of actual popular opinion is not actionable. Lord Denning stated that the true opinion of an honest man was protected: “no matter that his words conveyed defamatory imputations; no matter that his opinion was wrong; or exaggerated or prejudiced; no matter that it was badly expressed so that other people read all sorts of innuendos into it”, holding that right of fair comment was as “essential element” of freedom of speech which “must not be whittled down by legal refinements”.


In Jawaharlal Darda v. Manoharro Ganpatrao Kapiskar (1998) 4 SCC 112, The Supreme Court clearly said that the newspaper’s reporting was factual, accurate, and done in good faith. It was also noted that “if the accused genuinely believed the Minister’s account to be accurate and published the report in good faith, it cannot be said that they intentionally intended to harm the complainant’s reputation.” It was a study on the public behaviour of government employees who were given public cash to be utilised for the greater benefit. The case’s facts and circumstances thus show that the news stories were published for the benefit of the general public.

Recently, in the case of Vijay Darda vs Ravindra Gupta (Cr.No. 393 of 2022)

It was held by the High Court of Bombay that The responsibility of the Editor is to publish true facts and nothing else because it is for the public interest. The complaint of defamation alleges that the truthfulness of the contents of the First Information Report are not verified. The publisher is not expected to investigate the matter and ascertain the truthfulness of the First Information Report before publishing the news item. The liability and responsibility of the Editor are restricted to a limited extent therefore, the contention in that regard is not acceptable.

Therefore my analysis is that the defamation is not caused in this case as the defence of truth and bonafide statements and for the public interest arises.

However, The court would consider the specific allegations, evidence, and legal arguments presented before reaching a conclusion.

Difference between Civil and Criminal Defamation

Civil defamation: Defamation comes under the Law of Tort that is civil in nature. In civil cases, defamation claims are typically brought by individuals seeking compensation for harm caused to their reputation.Damages are awarded on the basis of probabilities.A person found guilty can be penalized only by making him pay damages.

Criminal defamation: Criminal defamation involves the state prosecuting the defendant for making defamatory statements. The defendant can face penalties such as fines or imprisonment if found guilty. It is a criminal offence, which is bailable, non-cognizable and compoundable. It has been defined as an offence under Section 499 and the punishment for the same is given in Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.A person found guilty can be punished with imprisonment up to two years or fine or with both.



Law Wire Team
Law Wire Team
Law Wire Team attempts to delve into pertinent (and sometimes not immediately pertinent) questions regarding socio-politics, Law and their interesting matrix.


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