Arnab Goswami Case: Bombay HC Suspends FIRs; Directs No Coercive Action4 min read

BY: ANUSHA AGARWAL

The Bombay High Court has suspended two FIR registered against Republic TV Chief Arnab Goswami for his alleged proactive and inflammatory comment over Palghar Lynching and Bandra (West) migrants gathering incident while stating that No Prima Facie Case made out against him. The court has directed no coercive steps shall be taken against the petitioner till the final disposal of the matter.

The Court has said, “all proceedings in FIR No. 164/2020 before N.M. Joshi Marg Police Station, Mumbai, and FIR No. 137 of 2020 before the Pydhonie Police Station, Mumbai Shall remains suspended and interim order passed on 09/06/2020 to the effect that no coercive steps shall be taken against the petitioner vis-a-vis on the two FIRs shall continue till disposal of this petition.”

 A two-judge bench of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan & Justice Riyaz Chagla passed their order on a plea filed by Arnab Goswami seeking quashing of FIRs registered against him on allegations of Causing public and communal disharmony.

Thus, on an overall consideration, we are of the prima facie view that FIR No.164 of 2020 on the face of it does not make out the commission of any criminal offense by the petitioner.

In such circumstances, to allege or impute any communal motive to what the petitioner had commented would be a distortion of the narrative. Prima facie, no offense as alleged can be said to have been committed by the petitioner, noted the Court in its order.

Arnab Goswami had moved the Bombay High Court seeking quashing of two FIRs registered against him on April 22 and May 2 concerning the remarks and comments made during his primetime show on Republic TV. Goswami had moved to the Supreme Court earlier seeking quashing of multiple FIRs registered against him in various states concerning the Palghar lynching program he anchored. The Supreme Court had kept the FIR alive which was registered in the State of Maharashtra and directed him to approach the appropriate forum and then he had moved to the Bombay High Court seeking quashing of the same.

Arnab Goswami had also sought to Declare sections 153A, 153B(1) and 295A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as unconstitutional being violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution of India.

The Court said, “Since all the parties are represented, issuance of notice stands obviated. However, the office of the Attorney General of India is notified as regards challenge to vires of sections 153A and 153B(1) IPC.”

The High Court highlighted the Supreme Court order wherein the Supreme Court noted that the petitioner is a media journalist. Exercise of journalistic freedom lies at the core of speech and expression protected by Article 19(1)(a). Airing of views on television shows which the petitioner hosts are in the exercise of his fundamental right to speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). Supreme Court observed that India’s freedoms will rest safely as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal. Though exercise of that fundamental right is not absolute, but to allow a journalist to be subjected to multiple complaints and in pursuit of his remedies to traverse multiple states and jurisdictions when faced with successive FIRs and complaints bearing the same foundation would have a stifling effect on the exercise of that freedom. Though the right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher than the right of a citizen to speak and express, we as a society should 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 Court has said, “We have already noted and referred to the observations of the Supreme Court that India’s freedoms will rest safely as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal; free citizens cannot exist when the news media is chained to adhere to one position. We cannot have the spectacle of a Damocles’ sword hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate. India is now a mature democracy. Seventy years into our republic we cannot be seen to be skating on thin ice so much so that mere mention of a place of worship will lead to animosity or hatred amongst religious communities causing upheaval and conflagration on the streets. Subscribing to such a view would stifle all legitimate discussions and debates in the public domain.”

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