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Editor's arrest underlines need for defamation law reform, says IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - 5 July 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned at the arrest of T.P. Nandakumar, a magazine editor in the southern Indian state of Kerala, on charges of defamation. Nandakumar was taken into custody on July 3 following a complaint lodged by an Indian businessman who is a resident in the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi. He was released on bail the following day.

Nandakumar, who edits a weekly magazine called Crime, was under court injunction not to publish any material on the complainant. His arrest followed the posting of an article pertaining to the same individual on the magazine's website, http://www.crimenewsonline.com .

Crime magazine has earned a wide readership in recent years by carrying a number of stories with significant political impact. According to IFJ sources in Kerala, these stories have touched on the alleged misdeeds of several of the major parties contesting political power in the state. A recent story that it featured on the Minister for Education and Culture in the state led to libel action under applicable civil law.

"Without going into the content of the article in question, we believe that criminal action for defamation has no place in a democratic system that respects a free press," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"We urge that remedies for perceived acts of libel or defamation be sought through civil law so that firm judicial precedents are established on the protection of privacy and personal reputation."

While recognising that such precedents would be of value, the IFJ remains firm in its conviction that ethical guidelines for the media are best evolved by professional bodies of journalists.

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