The Supreme Court on Monday, 26 October, asked the Maharashtra government to submit a list of FIRs filed against Republic editor Arnab Goswami, and posted the state’s appeal against a Bombay High Court order staying FIRs against Goswami for hearing after two weeks.
Arnab has also been asked to give some assurances of being more responsible with his reporting, and will need to file an affidavit explaining how he is going to go about this, along with details of the cases against him and Republic.
On 30 June, the high court had stayed two FIRs against Goswami – for defamatory statements against Congress president Sonia Gandhi during its Palghar lynching coverage, and inciting communal hatred over a gathering of migrant workers at Bandra railway station in April – and ordered that no coercive action was to be taken against him.
“We cannot have the spectacle of a Damocles’ sword hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate,” the high court bench had said in its order. The judges also observed that “prima facie no case was made out against him.”
The Maharashtra government filed an appeal in the apex court against this order of Bombay High Court, which was heard on Monday by a bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde along with Justices DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao.
During the hearing, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Maharashtra government, argued that the high court did not have the authority to stay the investigation as a whole.
He suggested that there could be certain conditions imposed to ensure there were no concerns of fairness, such as no arrest/coercive action, and 48 hours’ notice for summons for questioning – but beyond this, there “should be no impression that someone is above the law.”
CJI Bobde agreed that nobody was above the law, but also noted that there were some people who were being targeted with “higher intensity”, which might mean they need to be granted a greater standard of protection.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing Goswami, argued that his client and Republic TV had been targeted since April 2020 by the Mumbai Police, including with a recent FIR against the entire editorial staff of the channel. He contended that the FIRs in question in the case before the Supreme Court were “not genuine”.
It was at this point that CJI Bobde, while acknowledging the importance of freedom of press, noted that this did not mean journalists could not be questioned for commission of crimes in their work, and made some strong oral observations against Republic.
“As a court, our most important concern is peace and harmony in the society. Nobody is immune from being questioned. We can ensure the questioning takes place with dignity and privacy, but we also want you to act with more responsibility,” he said.
Salve said he understood the judge’s comments on the need for more responsibility in reporting, but reiterated that the FIRs in question should not be taken at face value. CJI Bobde then retorted by saying that Goswami didn’t need to adhere to some model standards of reporting, but that:
"“Frankly speaking, I cannot stand it. This has never been the level of our public discourse.”"
The CJI also noted that every day, there was one or the other case pertaining to Republic coming up in the apex court. The court then directed Salve to place on affidavit what Goswami proposed to do in this regard.
The court also then directed the Maharashtra government to submit a list of FIRs against Goswami, Republic, and other connected persons. The case will be heard after another two weeks, during which time the high court’s decision continues to remain in force.
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