On Saturday night, sports journalist Boria Majumdar released a video in which he said that he intends to serve a defamation notice against cricketer Wriddhiman Saha. This development comes after the Board of Control for Cricket in India started investigating a threat Saha said he had received on WhatsApp from a journalist threatening not to interview the cricketer ever again since he had not responded to the person’s request for an interview.

On February 19, Saha had posted a tweet containing a screenshot of the journalist’s WhatsApp messages to him, without naming anyone. With his video on Sunday, Majumdar has acknowledged that he was the person who sent the messages to Saha.

But he denied allegations that he had threatened the cricketer, and has, in turn, accused Saha of doctoring screenshots to misconstrue facts.

Many social media users have wondered whether Majumdar actually has a credible case, given that Saha did not name him in his tweets.

What is the controversy?

The matter bubbled up mid-February when Saha, who had been dropped from the Indian team for the Test series against Sri Lanka, posted this tweet.

Screenshot of the conversation with a journalist tweeted by Saha.

Saha’s tweet went viral on social media. Speculation about the identity of the journalist centred around Majumdar because of a spelling mistake in the WhatsApp message: the word “you” had been written as “ypu” and some Twitter users claimed that this was an error Majumdar made frequently.

Meanwhile, some cricketers expressed concern at the news of a journalist threatening a cricketer. On February 26, the Board of Control for Cricket in India formed a committee to look into this matter.

On Saturday, the committee called in Saha to hear out his version of events. At the hearing, Saha is reported to have named Majumdar as the person who sent the messages.

The same day, Majumdar released his video accepting that he was the journalist who sent Saha the messages.

“There are always two sides to a story,” he said. He denied threatening Saha. “At no point did I cross the line,” he said.

Majumdar said that he had sent the texts to express “disappointment” towards Saha’s “unprofessional behaviour” for not showing up for an interview after promising to do so.

Majumdar also claimed that Saha blurred a date on the WhatsApp messages he released on Twitter to give the impression that it was a continuous chat, whereas the conversation occurred over different dates. He also claimed that Saha inserted a line in the chats to suggest that he had received a missed call from Majumdar.

“Saha has doctored, fabricated, manipulated screenshots and has put it out in the public domain trying to implicate me and garner public sympathy in the process,” Majumdar said.

Majumdar further said that if Saha felt anguished he could have posted the screenshot on February 13 itself, when these chats took place. However, Saha posted them on February 19, the day he was dropped from the Indian team, to gain public sympathy, Majumdar claimed.

Majumdar said that he has sent a timeline of the events to the Board of Control for Cricket in India and asked the board for a fair hearing.

“There is another very serious aspect to this entire thing which I am not saying here, but I will put it in front of BCCI’s investigative committee the moment I get an opportunity,” he added.

Majumdar added that he and his family were “mercilessly trolled” for days as a result of Saha’s tweet. He said that he would serve Saha a defamation notice soon.

“Now that Wriddhiman has decided to put my name in the public domain, my lawyers feel that this is a perfect case and a befitting case for us to serve a defamation notice on Wriddihiman Saha,” Majumdar said.

However, many social media users have questioned how Majumdar’s accusations undermine the fact that he threatened to not interview the cricketer again.

India’s defamation law

For the offence of defamation to be established, the plaintiff needs to first satisfy a few conditions. First, they have to show that the defendant has published a statement to a third party – other than the plaintiff and the defendant. Second, that the statement refers to the plaintiff and third, that the statement has lowered the plaintiff’s reputation in the eyes of right-thinking members of society.

The defendant can, in turn, try to prove that their statement falls within the various defences to defamation.

If the statement that the defendant has made is the truth, then the claim of defamation does not stand. The second defence is that of fair comment. If the defendant proves that what they said fell under fair comment (for instance, a reviewer criticising someone’s book) then that also cannot fall under the purview of defamation.

In the present case, while Saha has published a statement on Twitter, he did not explicitly refer to Majumdar in the screenshot he shared. Till now, there are only news reports that Saha has named Majumdar at the hearing before the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Thus, Majumdar would have to first prove that Saha himself told people that Majumdar had threatened him.

Since defamation often takes place through vague references and innuendo, the courts have held that a person need not be named explicitly to be a victim of defamation. In such cases, the plaintiff has to first establish that people who knew them understood that the impugned material had referred to them, in spite of them not being named in the material.

Even if this is established, Majumdar will have to prove that the statements lowered his reputation in the eyes of the “right-thinking members of society”.

If this is done, Saha will still have the defences to defamation available to him. For instance, he could prove that the statements in the screenshot he shared were true.

However, this case will become clearer as more facts emerge since Majumdar has claimed that there are other concerns to this episode that he has not mentioned in the video but will do in front of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.