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Innuendo - Jamila Rajkotwala


Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)[1] in context of defamation states that “whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person”.  

Libel – It as an actionable tort and a criminal offense which is basically a statement that is either written or represented to an individual or a huge crowd in most cases that creates or portrays an unfavourable impression of another.

  • Publishing any statement or representation that may make another vulnerable to public contempt without any just cause.
  • Defaming a person through the means of writing or means that are representational.
  • The publication of writings and pictures that are profane, treasonable, seditious or indecent in nature.
  • The act, tort or crime of publishing such a libel.


Words are considered prima facie defamatory when their natural sense is defamatory. Words that are considered as innocent in the first impression, have to be proved defamatory by the plaintiff. The latent meaning of the words in the statement that is directed to the plaintiff has to be explained by the plaintiff. When the plaintiff relies on the ordinary meaning of the statements without refereeing to any special circumstances and pleads the meaning which according to him is the natural meaning, such a plea is called pleading an innuendo. The word innuendo, in law basically means “an indirect hint”.  

A complainant who alleges innuendo must complement the references to the impugned terms with a detailed description of the extrinsic facts that give the terms their “extended” meaning in the statement of argument.   Such evidence, on the other hand, just needs to show that there are people who are aware of the extrinsic facts and may well have interpreted the challenged terms in the defamatory context that they obtain by connection with those facts. In this sense, it is usually not necessary to make sure that someone really understands them. Therefore, in contrast to the fact that the defendant’s case is misleading on the obvious meaning of the word used, the fact that the accused misinterprets when he gets the wrong meaning of external evidence is that he is the quality and acceptance of the damage, not the liability. That is to say, the claimant, who is uninformed of the extrinsic evidence that have turned his or her innocent statements into defamatory statements by means of innuendo, cannot raise that confusion as a defence against liability, but will be seen as a factor that limits the susceptibility to damages.


TOLLEY V. J.S.FRY & SONS LTD[2].: a rendered image of the plaintiff, who was an amateur golf player, was used to advertise Fry’s chocolate without the plaintiff’s permission. It was discovered that neither the plaintiff was aware of the advertisement published by the company nor he consumed the particular company’s chocolates.  The argument from the side of the plaintiff was that his caricature was used in the advertisement that gave an image that he had permitted to do so for rewards and that harmed his reputation as an amateur golfer. Subsequently he recovered damages on the stand of innuendo.   

Held: That the innuendo could not be supported in the absence of evidence of special facts known to people to whom the advertisement was published, entitling and causing them, as ordinary reasonable men, to attach to the advertisement the meaning alleged in the innuendo. – Scrutton, L.J.


STUBBS, LIMITED V. MAZURO, (1920)[3]: Stubbs’ Weekly Gazette a commercial newspaper, containing information as to the credit of traders, published a weekly list of persons against whom decrees in absence had been obtained in the small-debt courts. The list was headlined with a note stating “In no case does publication of the decree imply inability to pay on the part of any one named, or anything more than the fact that the entry published appeared in the court books”. The pursuers name erroneously appeared in one such list. In an action for libel, it was averred that the publication by way innuendo falsely and calumniously represented that the pursuer was given to or had begun to refuse or delay making payment of his debts and that he was not a person to whom credit should be given.

In the case of Frank Finn Management Consultants Vs. Subhash Motwani and Ors.[4], it was clearly held by the court that, “In a case in which the plaintiff claiming defamation is not identified, the plaintiff must show that the persons/people who knew him recognized the impugned article to be about him, despite the fact that he was not specified in the impugned article. Unless the said fact is established, there can be no claim for defamation inasmuch as without the persons knowing the plaintiff connecting the allegedly defamatory allegations to the plaintiff, even if the allegations are per se defamatory, the plaintiff cannot sue. It makes no difference whether the plaintiff understood the libel to be aimed at him or if the defendants intended the libel to be aimed at him. Publication, i.e., communication to a third party, is the essence of defamation. The libel is not actionable unless anyone other than the plaintiff and defendant is made aware of it.”


The scope of innuendo is extremely wide and different in various scenarios

  1. Protection of the image and reputation of an individual
  2. Avoids publishing of false or misinterpreted information
  3. Gives importance to framing the message/advertisement in a clear and better way
  4. Regulation of the data accessible to people
  5. Stronger amendments in laws like “right to freedom of speech”, “right to privacy”, etc.


Blind objects are frequently used to translate rumors into claims, and thanks to the technology advancement, they have an instant effective impact. And though freedom of speech is vital in a democratic country, preserving people’s privacy is just as essential to their independence. The legislation against defamation is largely ineffective in stopping the dissemination of gossip and misinformation in the shape of blind items on the internet. The appellant bears the burden of evidence of demonstrating that audiences who are familiar with him or her believe the contested blind object is actually connected to the appellant, without any confusion or uncertainty in their minds about the claimant’s identity.

Author(s) Name: Jamila (Symbiosis Law School, Pune)



[2] Tolley v. Fry & Sons Ltd [1931] AC 333 

[3] Mazure v. Stubbs Ltd [1919] UKHL 535 (28 July 1919) –

[4] Frank Finn Management Consultants v. Subhash Motwani and Ors. CS(OS) 367/2002

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