Book journalists for extortion if they threaten to defame person in news: Bombay High Court

Mumbai: In a significant ruling, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court recently held, a threat by a journalist to publish a news item to defame someone, will amount to extortion. The HC further ruled in case of extortion there is no requirement of a physical injury as even harm to the reputation or mind will be assumed as an injury.

The ruling was delivered by a single-judge bench of Justice Murlidhar Giratkar, who upheld the conviction of a journalist, who had demanded money from a man for not publishing a news item against him.

He was convicted for extorting money and was sentenced to serve rigorous imprisonment of three years. He had accordingly, challenged his conviction. Trashing his contentions, Justice Giratkar said, “From a plain reading of the provision of extortion coupled with the definition of injury, it is clear that there should not be any physical harm to the body.

Even harm to reputation and mind is an injury.” “The illustrations to section 383 (extortion) are very clear. All the illustrations show that even threatening by journalists who are reporters to publish news in a newspaper to defame that person amounts to extortion,” Justice Giratkar ruled.

The court further said that the illustrations to section 383 specifically show that if for instance ‘A’ threatens to publish a defamatory libel concerning ‘Z’ unless the latter gives him money, then ‘A’ induces ‘Z’ to give him money and thus ‘A’ has committed extortion. The case dates back to 1999, wherein the convicted journalist — Sharad Deotale threatened a man, who had sold a plot to several persons, after converting it from agricultural to non-agricultural.

Deotale had threatened the complainant of publishing a news item against him for fraudulently converting the plot. He had also threatened the complainant of influencing the Collector of the area and getting the structures, now built upon the plot, demolished.

The journalist, accordingly demanded Rs 50,000 from the complainant for not publishing the news item. His illegal demands were reported to the police and a trap was laid after which he was caught red-handed accepting some amount of the total bribe.

In his defence, Deotale offered to file an undertaking before the court that he will not commit such an offence in the future.
Junking his undertaking, Justice Giratkar said, “Nobody can take guarantee of such type of person that he would not commit any kind of crime.

These types of crimes are increasing day-by-day, by threatening the officers or innocent persons such people are extracting money in the name of journalists.” “The accused has misused his position and threatened the complainant and purchasers, therefore, he is not entitled to any kind of leniency,” Justice Giratkar said while upholding Deotale’s conviction.

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