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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 matter.

The Court has said, “all proceedings in FIR No. 164/2020 before the 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.

The Court has said, “Transcript of the said broadcast aired on 21.04.2020 has been placed on record. Before perusing the same, an analysis of the first information lodged by respondent No.3 as the informant may be made. From this information what is discernible is that according to the informant, petitioner made a statement like two Hindu Sadhus were killed and asked whether in a country where 80% of the population are Hindus, is it a sin to be a Hindu or to wear saffron. In contradistinction he asked whether Smt. Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party would have kept quiet if a Maulvi or Padri was killed. Then petitioner launched an attack on the foreign origin of Smt. Sonia Gandhi; asking whether “these people” thought that Hindus will keep quiet.”

Prima facie, it appears that petitioner as a media journalist had questioned the response or rather the alleged non-response of the Congress party and its President Smt. Sonia Gandhi to the killing of two Hindu saints juxtaposing this with the question as to whether the Congress party or Smt. Sonia Gandhi would have kept quiet if any Maulvi or Padri was killed. Thereafter petitioner made allegations against the foreign origin of Smt. Sonia Gandhi, said the Court.

It Further added, It is quite clear that the object of or the target of the petitioner’s attack was primarily Smt. Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party. There was no mentioning of either the Muslim community or the Christian community. It would be too far-fetched to say that two religious communities were involved in the debate. As a matter of fact, there was no reference to the Muslim community or to the Christian community.

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 commission of any criminal offence 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 offence 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 in relation to 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 in relation to 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.

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, office of the Attorney General of India be 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 petitioner is a media journalist. Exercise of journalistic freedom lie at the core of speech and expression protected by Article 19(1)(a). Airing of views on television shows which the petitioner hosts is 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 safe 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 safe 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.”

Read the order here;

Arnab-Goswami

-India Legal Bureau

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