Unit 3: Important Laws – Media Law & Ethics Class Notes


“Defamation is one of the greatest legal dangers for anyone who earns a living with words and images…” (McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, 2014)

McNae’s golden rule: “…if publication seems likely to bring a threat of defamation, [a journalist] should take professional advice”.

A defamatory statement is one that harms the reputation of a person, company or organisation. Different types of defamation:

  • Libel: Written, broadcast or spoken in a public performance; or in some permanent form.
  • Slander: Spoken. But if it is broadcast, it is libel.

When will a statement considered to be defamation:

  • expose them to hatred, ridicule or contempt
  • cause them to be shunned or avoided
  • lower them in the estimation of “right-thinking” members of society generally
  • disparage them in their business, trade, office or profession

It is almost always defamatory to say someone is a liar, a cheat, insolvent or in financial difficulty – but the publisher has a defence if it is true.

Contempt of Court

In India contempt of court is of two types:

Civil contempt:

Under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

Criminal contempt:

Under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:

Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Punishment: 6 (six) months, or fine up to ₹2000 or both.


Official Secrets Act

The Official secret Act 1923 is India’s anti-espionage (“Spy” and “Secret agent”) act held over from British colonisation. It states clearly that actions which involve helping an enemy state against India.

It also states that one cannot approach, inspect, or even pass over a prohibited government site or area.

According to this Act, helping the enemy state can be in the form of communicating a sketch, plan, a model of an official secret, or of official codes or passwords, to the enemy.

Intellectual property rights copyright and piracy

Criminal Remedies

Civil Remedies

Working conditions of journalists

Working Journalists (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Rules, 1957