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India's Freedom Will Rest Safe As Long As Journalists Can Speak To Power Without Being Chilled By A Threat Of Reprisal: SC [Read Judgment]

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
19 May 2020 9:31 AM GMT
Indias Freedom Will Rest Safe As Long As Journalists Can Speak To Power Without Being Chilled By A Threat Of Reprisal: SC [Read Judgment]
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"The right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher than the right of the citizen to speak and express. "

India's freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal, observed the Supreme Court in its judgment delivered in the writ petition filed by Arnab Goswami. In his writ petition, Arnab had sought for quashing all the complaints and FIRs lodged against the petitioner in multiple States and Union Territories. Justice DY...

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India's freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal, observed the Supreme Court in its judgment delivered in the writ petition filed by Arnab Goswami.

In his writ petition, Arnab had sought for quashing all the complaints and FIRs lodged against the petitioner in multiple States and Union Territories.

Justice DY Chandrachud, who authored the judgment, observed that, 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 his freedom. The Court said:

"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. 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."

Referring to TT Antony v State of Kerala, the bench, also comprising of Justice MR Shah, said 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.

"A fresh investigation or a second FIR on the basis of the same or connected cognisable offence would constitute an "abuse of the statutory power of investigation" and may be a fit case for the exercise of power either under Section 482 of the CrPC or Articles 226/227 of the Constitution", noted the Court based on TT Antony and several other precedents which followed it.

The Court asserted that any reasonable restriction on fundamental rights must comport with the proportionality standard, of which one component is that the measure adopted must be the least restrictive measure to effectively achieve the legitimate state aim.

"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 bench said.

The Court proceeded to observe :

"The manner in which the petitioner has been subjected to numerous FIRs in several States, besides the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of identical allegations arising out of the same television show would leave no manner of doubt that the intervention of this Court is necessary to protect the rights of the petitioner as a citizen and as a journalist to fair treatment (guaranteed by Article 14) and the liberty to conduct an independent portrayal of views. In such a situation to require the petitioner to approach the respective High Courts having jurisdiction for quashing would result into a multiplicity of proceedings and unnecessary harassment to the petitioner, who is a journalist."

The judgment also quotes from the book "21 Lessons for 21st Century" written by Yuval Noval Harari:  "Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question."



The Court noted that all the FIRs or complaints which have been lodged in diverse jurisdictions arise out of one and the same incident - the broadcast by the petitioner on 21 April 2020 on R Bharat. The broadcast is the foundation of the allegation that offences have been committed under the provisions of Sections 153, 153A, 153B, 295A, 298, 500, 504 and 506 of the IPC.

SC Rejects Arnab Goswami's Plea To Quash FIR By Maharashtra Police And Transfer Probe To CBI

The Court also noted that the FIRs are worded in identical terms and the language, content and sequencing of paragraphs and their numbering is identical.

The Court also recorded that Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for the State of Maharashtra, "fairly submitted" that the Court may proceed to quash all the other FIRs and complaints lodged in diverse jurisdictions in the States, leaving open, however, the investigation in the FIR registered in Mumbai. The Court clarified that the quashing of these various FIRs shall not amount to any expression of opinion by the Court on the merits of the FIR which is under investigation by the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai.

However, the Court refused to entertain the prayers for quashing of the FIR and the alternate relief sought for transfer of probe to CBI.

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