This article is written by Devina Rathod and pursuing a Diploma in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation, and Dispute Resolution.  This article has been edited by Ruchika Mohapatra(Associate, Lawsikho). 

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.

Introduction

After the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary, the Press is the fourth cornerstone of a democratic government. There can be no proper functioning of government without free and fair political discourse. In the case of Indian Express vs. Association of India, it was decided that the press plays a particularly important role in a vote-based society and that courts should constantly protect press freedom.

Important facts of the case

The Supreme Court decided on the Criminal Writ Petition (Crl) No. 130 of 2020 filed by Mr. Arnab Goswami, the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, in the court of law. He anchors on both Republic TV (English) and R Bharat, a Hindi news channel owned by ARG Outlier Media Asianet News Private Limited which is managed by him as the CEO and Managing Director. Multiple FIRs and criminal charges were filed against Mr. Goswami in the states of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Jharkhand, and the UT of Jammu & Kashmir following the airing of two programmes on Republic TV on April 16th and 21st, 2020. 

The discussions in question involved Mr. Goswami referring to an incident known as the Palghar Lynching. The incident occurred on April 16th, 2020 in Gadchinchle town, Palghar District, Maharashtra. The vile act allegedly involved three people being brutally beaten to death by a mob, two of them were Sadhus, in the presence of police officials and forest guard officials. He addressed Sonia Gandhi’s silence on the primary point wherein three of them were lynched by locals on suspicion of them being thieves while on their way to Silvassa; inquiring if she would have remained as tight-lipped if Muslim or Christian religious leaders had been lynched instead of Hindus.

Mr. Goswami went on to ask pertinent questions claiming that a well-coordinated and nasty campaign had been undertaken. Several members of the Indian National Congress (INC) submitted charges for offences allegedly committed under Sections 153, 153A, 153B, 295A, 298, 500, 504, 506, and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Mr. Goswami also mentioned an event on April 23, 2020, between 12:30 and 1:00 a.m., when he was driving home with his wife and was confronted and assaulted by two people on a motorcycle. Both of them are claimed to have admitted to being members of the INC. The petitioner thus rejected the propagation of any religious beliefs.

In consequence, the petitioner moved to the court under Article 32 for protection of his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Contentions from both sides

Petitioner

  • In view of the petition filed under Article 32, it was stated that the dialogue he held on live television was solely to analyze the shoddy investigation of the Palghar Lynching incident and the contradicting opinions of the authorities as well as the State Government’s silence. 
  • Questions were raised regarding the government’s authority in Maharashtra with regards to the fact that the horrendous incident took place in front of police officials. 
  • The claim of proliferating communal perceptions was refuted by the lawyer.
  • The court was requested to declare his unequivocal freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
  • It was stated that the inquiry into the case was biased and unjust as the inquiry approach drew everyone to the conclusion that the authorities were pulling a fast one on the petitioner.
  • He was also challenging the Maharashtra police’s delay in the Palghar event, and that as the institution was controlled by the state government, as a result contributing to a pronounced conflict of interest. 
  • The principal reliefs sought were the dismissal of all complaints and FIRs filed against Mr. Goswami in various states, as well as a request from the Union Government for safety for his family.

Respondents

  • The Mumbai Police claimed that the petitioner’s actions were obstructing the investigation.
  • It sprang from the fact that Mr. Goswami was accompanied by a multitude of columnists when he was headed to the NM Joshi Marg Police Station.
  • After four hours of questioning, Republic Bharat’s Twitter account released a message saying, “Truth shall triumph” along with some other remarks that were delivered live on television.
  • On Republic Bharat’s Twitter account, further tweets were delivered, giving the impression that the Mumbai police are biased. 
  • The accusation was that the investigating agency was under persistent pressure, causing the investigation to come to a halt.

Interim Order (24.04.2020)

Mr. Arnab Goswami will be shielded from coercion for three weeks from the date of the verdict, according to the court. Except for one FIR lodged in Nagpur and now transferred to Mumbai, the Court halted all FIRs filed against Mr. Goswami.

In addition to the personal security provided to Mr. Goswami, the court ordered that if he makes a request to the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, for adequate security at his residence or the studio of Republic TV in Mumbai, such a request be expeditiously considered and police protection be provided as per the threat perception if considered appropriate, which shall continue until the threat subsides.

It also gave the petitioner the right to file an anticipatory bail plea with the Bombay High Court under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and to pursue any other legal remedies.

Issues

  • Whether Mr. Goswami can get the case investigated by authority of his preference?
  • Whether the Courts can consolidate the various similar FIRs under Article 32?
  • Whether the statements made by Mr. Goswami on live television are protected by Article 19(1)(a) or can be limited by the restrictions of Article 19(2)?

Analysis 

Preferring an investigating agency

  • The court refused Mr. Goswami’s request to transfer the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation. It did, however, allow him to pursue any legal remedies available under the CrPC in front of the appropriate venue.
  • Mr. Goswami’s plea to transfer the application was declined, citing the judgement in Romila Thapar v. Union of India ((2018) 10 SCC 753), which ruled that the “accused does not have a say in the subject of designation of investigating agency”. It may be determined that Mr. Goswami had no say in who the investigating agency was and how the investigation should be performed.
  • The court stated that an examination may only be moved to CBI in exceptional and extraordinary instances. They claimed that this was necessary to maintain public confidence in the state’s impartiality.

Consolidation of FIRs

  • The court rejected all other identical FIRs filed against Arnab Goswami in different states, with the exception of the one filed in Nagpur, which has now been transferred to Mumbai.
  • The court further observed the case of TT Antony  v. the State of Kerala ((2001) 6 SCC 181), in which the court determined that subjecting an individual to multiple proceedings for the same offence is inconsistent with the provisions as mentioned in the Constitution.
  • When a counter-case is filed, the Court determined that conducting a new investigation based on a related cognizable offence would be an “abuse of the statutory power of investigation” and could be construed as justified for exercising power under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code or Articles 226/227 of the Constitution.
  • It was established in Ram Lal Narang and Ors v. The State that a new FIR might be filed on the same subject. This is the case as long as the second report contains fresh information and information about the case that was not included in the original report.
  • It was stated that no other FIR or complaint, as the case may be, shall be filed or pursued in any other forum in connection with the same cause of action arising from the petitioner’s broadcast on R Bharat on April 21, 2020.
  • Additionally, all other FIRs or complaints filed in connection with the same cause of action were also deemed unmaintainable.

Can he be protected under Article 19(1)(a) for the statements made on live television

  • Article 19(1)(a) promises freedom of speech and expression, however, this right cannot be used to tarnish the religious sentiments of the people.
  • The court refused to dismiss the FIR filed against Mr. Goswami for allegedly wounding religious sentiments on his channel Republic TV during a show by making disparaging comments about a religious community.
  • Reasonable restrictions have been imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India with the intent to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country. 

Conclusion

Each individual has the option of assessment and articulation, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While the court believes that a columnist should be able to seek for, obtain, and discuss suppositions and realities, he cannot undermine strict opinions. Any denunciation or constraint imposed on an individual’s major right must be reasonable and not subjective, according to the Maneka Gandhi case.

Article 19(2) serves as a check on Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. It sets reasonable limitations on the exercise of fundamental rights on the basis of the country’s sovereignty and integrity, the state’s security, friendly relations with other states, public order, decency or morality, or contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence. However, only malicious and deliberate acts should be punishable, rather than casual observations made without malicious intent. 


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