India’s freedom will rest as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal

Ukkash F | Sastra School of Law, Tamil Nadu | 22nd May 2020 

Arnab Ranjan Goswami Vs Union of India & Ors. 

FACTS OF THE CASE

The petitioner is the Editor-In-Chief of Republic TV, an English news channel. On 16th April 2020 his broadcast on an incident in Maharashtra led to the lodging of multiple First Information Reports and criminal complaints against the petitioner. They have been lodged in the States of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand as well as in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir.

The broadcast revolved around three persons including two sadhus who were brutally killed by a mob, allegedly in the presence of the police and forest guard personnel. Arnab claimed that the unfortunate incident’s evidence was suppressed under the order of an alliance government jointly formed by Shiv Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.

Following the incident, He claimed that the incident was “A well-coordinated, widespread, vindictive and malicious campaign” launched against him by the Indian National Congress and its activists.

Moreover, Arnab registered an FIR at NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai in which the details of the alleged attack on him by two individuals in motor cycle has been set out. Arnab filed for a transfer of the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation since there is a chance for the FIR to get politically motivated and to no let miscarriage the justice.

ISSUE

  1. Was the freedom of press of the journalist violated in the present situation?
  2. Whether numerous proceedings in different jurisdictions against the same individual with the same cause of action can be quashed?

COURT’S OBSERVATION

Learned Senior Counsel on behalf of the petitioner submitted that the petition which has been instituted before this Court under Article 32 raises “wider issues” implicating the freedom of speech and expression of a journalist to air views which fall within the protective ambit of Article 19(1) (a). Moreover, The investigation by the Mumbai police is mala fide since it is politically motivated.

The learned counsel on behalf of the state of Maharashtra, it was submitted that The facts of the present case clearly demonstrate that in the garb of an arc of protection, the accused is attempting to browbeat the police.

The fundamental basis on which the jurisdiction of this Court has been invoked under Article 32 is the filing of multiple FIRs and complaints in various States arising from the same cause of action. The court placed reliance on the case, TT Antony v State of Kerala,

“There can be no second FIR and consequently there can be no fresh investigation on receipt of every subsequent information in respect of the same cognizable offence or the same occurrence or incident giving rise to one or more cognizable offences”.

The court held that there can be no second FIR and quashed the other FIRs. Adverting to precedents, the Court emphasized on the need to strike a just balance between the fundamental rights of citizens under Articles 19 and 21 and the expansive power of the police to investigate a cognizable offence.

Moreover, it was held that India’s freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal. The exercise of that fundamental right is not absolute and is answerable to the legal regime enacted with reference to the provisions of Article 19(2). But to allow a journalist to be subjected to multiple complaints and to the pursuit of remedies traversing multiple states and jurisdictions when faced with successive FIRs and complaints bearing the same foundation has a stifling effect on the exercise of that freedom. This will effectively destroy the freedom of the citizen to know of the affairs of governance in the nation and the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society.

CONCLUSION

The bench was headed by Justice D.Y Chandrachud and Justice M.R Shah. The bench held that 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 court directed all other FIRs in respect of the same incident constitute a clear abuse of process and must be quashed.

Regarding the plea for transferring the investigation to the CBI, the court held that,

“The displeasure of an accused person about the manner in which the investigation proceeds or an unsubstantiated allegation (as in the present case) of a conflict of interest against the police conducting the investigation must not derail the legitimate course of law and warrant the invocation of the extraordinary power of this Court to transfer an investigation to the CBI”

Also, The Court reiterated that an investigation may be transferred to the CBI only in “rare and exceptional cases”and dismissed the plea of the petitioners.

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