Arnab Goswami Case: Supreme Court Balances Journalists’ Rights And Accountability
The Supreme Court quashed all but one first information report filed against Arnab Goswami in connection with statements made during a news broadcast, implying investigation will continue, even as it extended protection to the editor-in-chief of Republic TV from any coercive action for another three weeks.
While the right of a journalist to exercise his freedom of speech and expression cannot be exempted from being made answerable to the legal regime, the law cannot be used to stifle the right of the press through multiple complaints, according to the judgment.
“Subjecting an individual to numerous proceedings arising in different jurisdictions on the basis of the same cause of action cannot be accepted as the least restrictive and effective method of achieving the legitimate state aim in prosecuting crime,” the judgment authored by Justice DY Chandrachud read.
As many as 14 FIRs were registered against Goswami in various states, including Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and West Bengal, in connection to a show on the Palghar lynching case anchored by him on Republic TV on April 21.
The FIRs were registered under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, including Section 153A and provisions of criminal defamation as well as sections dealing with insulting religious beliefs of a group, etc. Goswami was accused of defaming Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
The Right to Freedom of Press is a part of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, which defines the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. The right of speech and expression of journalists are similar to those granted to any other citizen, the top court said.
“Our decisions hold that the right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher than the right of the citizen to speak and express. But we must as a society never forget that one cannot exist without the other. Free citizens cannot exist when the news media is chained to adhere to one position,” the Supreme Court said.
While the right under Article 19(1)(a) cannot be absolute, any restriction imposed on this right must pass the test of proportionality. It’s on this principle the court found that registration of multiple FIRs with similar complaints “will result into a multiplicity of proceedings and unnecessary harassment to the petitioner, who is a journalist”.
The Supreme Court in April had stayed the FIRs, barring the one that was registered in Nagpur but transferred to the Mumbai Police. Goswami, it said, can’t be granted immunity from investigation.
“This balance has to be drawn between the exercise of a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) and the investigation for an offence under the CrPC,” Justice DY Chandrachud said. “All other FIRs in respect of the same incident constitute a clear abuse of process and must be quashed.”
The court also rejected Goswami’s petition seeking transfer of the investigation into the FIRs to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The transfer of investigation from one agency to CBI can only be done in exceptional circumstances and the reasons put forward by Goswami in his petition were untenable to allow the request, the court said.
But the Supreme Court extended protection to Goswami for three weeks, allowing him to approach appropriate forums for seeking relief in the investigation initiated against him. The court also asked the Mumbai Police to ensure security to Goswami in light of the allegations of attack against him on the night of April 23.