The press is the fourth pillar of democracy after the Legislature, Executive
and Judiciary. Without free and fair political discussion, no proper functioning
of the government is possible. In the Indian express Vs. Union of India
case, it was held that the press plays a very significant role in a democracy
and that courts must always uphold the freedom of press.
Everyone has a fundamental right to form his/her opinion on general concerns and
journalists are an integral part of this dynamic system. While the courts may
try their best to keep this intact, political figures and authorities have often
used state machinery to threaten the freedom of media. This case is relevant due
to the fact that Arnab R Goswami, a famous journalist was harassed with numerous
Surrounding broadcasts aired on the 16th and 21st of April, 2020, several
members of the Indian National Congress filed FIRs against Arnab Goswami in the
states of Telangana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya
Pradesh among others.
Arnab Ranjan Goswami is the Editor-in-chief of Republic TV, a prominent news
channel in India. He is an anchor, often during prime time, on both Republic TV
(English) and R Bharat which is a Hindi News channel. Additionally, he is the
Managing Director of ARG Outlier Media Asianet News private Limited. He was the
petitioner in this case.
The broadcasts in question entailed Mr. Goswami talk about an incident popularly
referred to as the Palghar Lynching. The incident took place on the 16th of
April, 2020 in Gadchinchle village, Palghar district, Maharashtra. A mob
brutally beat three people to death, two of whom were Sadhus i.e., priests in
the Hindu religion. The horrific event allegedly happened in the presence of
police personnel who just stood by and did nothing.
The matter gained national attention very quickly and was being reported by
Arnab Goswami. In the presentation of the incident, he questioned Sonia Gandhi's
silence on the issue at hand. Sonia Gandhi is the president of the INC which has
a coalition government in Maharashtra. Apart from this, he accused her of
orchestrating the mob lynching. Arnab asked some pointed questions including
whether Sonia Gandhi would have remained silent if Christian or Muslim religious
leaders had been murdered in the place of the sadhus.
The Palghar lynching was not being investigated properly as it involved the
Maharashtra police directly. During this time, Arnab kept asking pertinent
questions. This is when the petitioner alleges that a malicious and abusive
series of actions were taken by the government. Prominently, complaints
regarding violations of sections 500, 504, 506, 153 and 298 of the Indian Penal
Code were filed by members of the INC in states where the governments were
controlled by the INC.
Arnab Goswami also narrated an event which occurred on 23rd April. Around
midnight, two people on a motorbike approached his car and were assaulted with
projectiles. The TV anchor moved the court under Article 32 to enforce his right
to freedom and expression as granted by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
The petitioner filed an interim Application alleging that the Mumbai police are
not undertaking a fair and equitable investigation, and that the investigation
is political in nature, humiliating the petitioner and his kin. He requested
that the case be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation from the
Mumbai Police. He sought protection at his workplace and residence. Further, he
asked for a writ of prohibition against the state of Maharashtra to prevent them
from filing an FIR with regard to the telecast.
On the 25th of April, 2020, the petitioner was summoned to the Police station as
per section 41 (a) of the ode of Criminal procedure. The former expressed his
willingness to appear before the officers through videoconferencing, keeping in
mind the COVID 19 pandemic. This request was rejected and Mr. Goswami went to
the police station where he was questioned vigorously by the Mumbai police for
around 12 hours with very little breaks. He alleged that the police did not
allow him to use his phone. He stated that the interrogation was on a very small
segment of the telecast's entirety which went on repeatedly and was largely
The Mumbai police retaliated with an application of their own. They alleged that
Arnab Goswami is causing an obstruction in the path of the investigation. The
acts mentioned were the posts on Republic Bharat's Twitter profile and the
petitioner's attempt to portray the Mumbai police of being biased. After the 12
hours of questioning, Mr. Goswami went on live television and spoke about the
case and questioning. Further, he went on to accuse the Mumbai Commissioner of
Police of playing a part in the India Bulls Scams.
The interim order to a large extent went in favor of Arnab Goswami. He was to be
shielded from coercion for three weeks from the date of the verdict. The order
also stated that if Mr. Goswami makes a request for security at his workplace or
residence, the Mumbai Commissioner of Police would have to grant him the same.
The police were asked to assess the threat to Arnab's life and provide required
protection. This order also gave the petitioner the right to file for
Anticipatory bail in the Bombay High Court as per section 438 of the CrPC, 1973.
The court also stayed all FIRs brought against Mr. Goswami. The case was taken
in the Supreme Court of India on the 19th of May, 2020
Issues at Hand
Contentions from both sides
- Whether Arnab Goswami, who stands accused, can get the case investigated
by an authority of his choice.
- Whether the Courts can consolidate the various similar FIRs under
- Whether the statements made by Arnab Goswami on live TV fall under the
protective ambit of Article 19 (1) (a) or can be restricted as per the
provisions under Article 19 (2)
The petition under article 32 of the Indian Constitution stated that the debate
conducted by him on live TV was only done in order to question the incompetent
investigation of the Palghar incident and the inconsistent versions of the
authorities along with silence from the State government. The fact that the
heinous event happened in front of police officers raised several questions
about the rule of the coalition government in the state of Maharashtra. The
petitioner denied the allegation of propagating communal views. He asked the
court to establish his clear freedom of expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of
the Indian constitution. The main reliefs sought were the quashing of all
complaints and FIRs filed against Mr. Goswami in several states and a plea for
protection for his family by the Union Government.
The petitioner submitted that the investigation against him was malicious and
not fair. He stated that the method of investigation leads anyone to the
conclusion that the authorities have acted in bad faith against the petitioner.
Mr. Goswami went on to state that the investigation is politically motivated and
launched with the sole objective of harassing the petitioner. Building on this,
he submitted that the news channel was questioning the tardiness of the
Maharashtra police in the Palghar incident and that this institution comes under
the control of the state government, therefore showing a clear conflict of
Government of Maharashtra
The Mumbai police submitted that the conduct of the petitioner was obstructing
the investigation. It was stemming from the fact that when Mr. Goswami went to
the NM Joshi Marg Police station, he was accompanied by a swarm of reporters.
Some speeches were made here and telecasted live. After 4 hours of the
interrogation, the twitter handle of Republic Bharat posted a message of "Truth
will prevail". The tweets of Republic Bharat were posting further messages
giving the impression that the Mumbai police are biased. The claim was that
incessant pressure was put on the investigating agency and that this was halting
- Constitution of India - Articles 14, 19,21, 32 and 226
- Indian penal Code, 1961 - Sections 34, 153, 153A, 153B, 500, 504, 505,
506, 188, 290, 499
- Code of Criminal procedure, 1973 - Sections 41 (a), 91, 160, 482, 199,
173 (2), 154, 162
- Issue 1 - The Accused cannot choose the investigating agency as that is
against the principles of natural justice.
- Issue 2 - The court can quash all FIRs except the first one because
there are no new aspects of the case being brought up in the various FIRs
- Issue 3 - Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. The case of
incitement of communal tensions cannot be dismissed but another competent
court may rule on the same after an investigation. Freedom of press is of
Choosing of investigating Agency
The first issue brought forth is the question whether the accused has a right to
choose the agency investigating him. To answer this, the courts relied on the
Maneka Gandhi v Union of India case. In this case, the essence of article 21
was discussed and the Hon'ble Supreme Court had stated that the provision
ensures that a process in the criminal trial is correct, just and equitable so
as to not be unreasonable. The implication of this statement is that a trial
must be done in a way that preserves the sanctity of the criminal Justice
In the present case, the petition for transfer of the case to the Central Bureau
of Investigation was denied.
The courts relied on the case of Romila Thapar v Union of India
wherein it was noted that the accused doesn't have a say in the matter of
choosing the investigating agency. They also recalled the Narmada Bai v.
State of Gujarat
 case and declared that the consistent view of the
Hon'ble SC has been that the accused cannot ask for changing the investigating
agency. The court stated that an investigation may be transferred to CBI only in
rare and exceptional cases. They said this is important to preserve the public
confidence in the impartiality of the state agencies.
Precedent has been established in similar situations where it can be proven that
the state government is acting maliciously. In the Inder Singh v. State of
Punjab, 7 people were allegedly abducted by a senior police officer of the
rank of Deputy Superintendent and some other policemen.
The people abducted were not heard from for a long period, a complaint was
registered before the DGP of state. The P.A of the DGP delivered the complaint
to the IG which led to an independent inquiry through the Superintendent of
Police. The office of the Superintendent of Police suggested that the case must
be filed against the officials as per section 364 of the IPC. Despite this, no
case was registered. At this point, a writ petition was filed before the Apex
Court for a fair and effective investigation into the episode.
The court allowed this petition and directed the CBI to conduct an independent
investigation. Similarly, the SC has granted similar orders in cases where a
police encounter killed 10 people. The CBI was once again was called upon for an
unbiased investigation as the encounter was done by the state police.
It was submitted in this case that the questions asked during the investigation
had no real bearing on the outcome of the case.
Some of the questions that were asked are as follows:
Quashing of FIRs
- Corporate structure of the petitioner's company.
- Process of obtaining broadcasting license by petitioner's news channels
- Whether the petitioner sends recordings of news reports on the channel
to the central Government.
- Status of petitioner's residence - Own the house or rented house?
For this issue, the court relied on the case of TT Antony v State of Kerala
This case had interpreted sections 154 and 174 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure. The Hon'ble SC had ruled that if the same cognizable offence has been
charged in an FIR, a second FIR alleging the same cannot exist. They clearly
stated that the filing of a new report on the same offence will not trigger a
In the case of Ram Lal Narang and Ors v. State
, it was held that a
second FIR can be filed in respect of the same subject matter. This is the case
as long as the second report contains new information and something pertinent to
the case which wasn't present in the first report. In this case, it was observed
that all the FIRs were very similar and all were trying to allege the same thing
in different words. Hence they were all consolidated to one and the author
agrees with this action. The court has balanced the tenets of the constitution
namely, Article 19 and 21. The court took a clear stand that multiple FIRs are
beyond the scope of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
FIR 164 of 2020 was not quashed. The court left this to other competent
authorities to decide.
Freedom of Expression Balanced with reasonable restrictions
In the case of Romesh Thappar vs. State of Madras
, the Supreme Court
of India held that freedom of press is a part of freedom of speech and
expression. The press is sometimes referred to as the fourth Pillar of democracy
after the legislature, Judiciary and Executive and is thus an important aspect
It was observed that without free political discussion, no proper functioning of
government is possible. In the Indian express v UOI
, It was held that the
press plays a very significant role in a democracy and that courts must always
uphold the freedom of press.
A very important case was the S Rangarajan vs. P Jagjivan Ram
this case it was held that everyone has a fundamental right to form his opinion
on any issues of general concern. Intolerance is dangerous to a democratic
system. In the famous case of Maneka Gandhi vs. UOI
, it was held by the
honorable SC that Freedom of speech and expression is not confined to national
boundaries as well. While the freedom of expression of the media is
quintessential, the right is not absolute and is subject to reasonable
restrictions as per Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.
The courts have held that India's independence and democracy is safe as long as
journalists can speak truth to power without fear of retaliation. The court said
that allowing a journalist to face several lawsuits and FIRs across the country
would have a suffocating impact on press freedom. If the courts keep
investigating journalists, they deprive citizens of the right to know about the
governance of the country in an unbiased manner. The court rightly said that:
free people cannot exist while the news media is pinned to a single point of
view. Therefore, the courts took a moderate approach to balance both sides. They
quashed all FIRs except one and preserved the provision of equal treatment under
Article 14 as well.
The Universal declaration of Human Rights states that every individual has the
right to freedom of opinion and expression. The court in this case however,
refused to rule on Mr. Goswami's FIR for allegedly hurting religious sentiments
by making disparaging remarks about a religious community. While the court's
opinion that a journalist must have the freedom to seek, receive and speak about
opinions and facts, he cannot injure religious sentiments. The press was rightly
declared as the guardians of democracy.
In the Maneka Gandhi case
, it was held that any denial or limitation
imposed on a person's fundamental right has to be reasonable and not arbitrary.
Another Notable case is the PUCL v. Union of India
 in which it was
clarified that Article 19 (1) (a) grants citizens the right to freedom of speech
and expression. Freedom in most contexts means the ability to express ones
opinions and thoughts through speech or other forms of publication.
As stated earlier, if there was one thing the courts could have done
differently, it was transferring the case to the CBI. This was indeed an
exceptional case where the state government had shown some signs of malice. If
every journalist were to be questioned for questioning a government's silence,
we would have no members of press left to report freely.
- Indian Express Vs. Union Of India, 1986 AIR 515
- Constitution of India, 1950, Article 19 (1) (a)
- Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, 1970 2 SCC 298
- Romila Thapar v Union of India, 2016 1 SCC 1
- Narmada Bai v. State of Gujarat (2011) 5 SCC 79
- Inder Singh v. State of Punjab 1995 AIR 312
- R.S. Sodhi Advocate v. State of U.P. and Ors. 1994 (Supp) (1) SCC 143
- Ram Lal Narang Etc. Etc vs State Of Delhi (Admn.) 1979 AIR 1791
- Romesh Thappar vs State of Madras, 1950 AIR 124
- S Rangarajan vs P Jagjivan Ram, 1989 SCC (2) 574
- People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, (1997) 1