THE BOMBAY High Court on Monday told the Mumbai Police that if it proposes to arraign Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in the TRP (television rating points) case, it should first issue summons to him. It said that if summons are issued, Goswami should appear before the police and cooperate with the investigation.
The Division Bench of Justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik also told the Mumbai Police to submit its investigation papers related to the case in a sealed cover by November 4.
The Bench was hearing a petition filed by ARG Outlier Media Pvt Ltd, which runs Republic TV, seeking quashing of the Mumbai Police FIR in the case and the summons to its senior officials
Alleging a racket to “spike TRPs” by Republic TV and two regional channels, Box Cinemas and Fakt Marathi, the Mumbai Police last week issued summons to eight persons, including the chief financial officer (CFO) of Republic Media Network. The petition, filed last week after the Supreme Court asked Republic TV to first approach the High Court, sought an interim stay on the investigation. It also asked the court to direct the Mumbai Police not to take any coercive steps against the channel or its employees, including their investigation and questioning.
While the petition sought interim protection from arrest for Goswami, the Bench noted that he was not an accused at this stage.
Saying that the Mumbai Police was “determined to falsely implicate” the channel and “silence news reporting” done by it, the petition asked for the case to be transferred to the CBI.
It said the police FIR was a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, and sought disciplinary proceedings against Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh for “gross dereliction of duty and abuse of power”.
Appearing for the petitioners, senior counsel Harish Salve and Milind Sathe told the court on Monday that no offence was made out by the police, and claimed mala fide action with an attempt to suppress the petitioners’ voice.
Salve said that if a probe has to be conducted, it should not be done by the Mumbai Police, who, he said, was biased against the petitioners. He also submitted that the petitioners would cooperate with the investigation.
Opposing the plea, Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal and Devadatt Kamat, appearing for the state and Mumbai Police Commissioner, said the petition was “entirely premature”. The investigation is still on and Goswami is not even named as an accused in the FIR, Sibal said. The right to freedom of speech grants protection to air your views but not from investigation, he said.
The Bench also referred to the petitioners’ contention regarding the press conference and interviews given by the Mumbai Police Commissioner in the case and said “there is a tendency by investigating officers to disclose about the ongoing investigations in sensitive cases”.
“We do not know if it is the correct method to give interviews to the media by police officers and disclose ongoing investigation. It is not only happening in the present case, but has been happening in other matters where the investigation is in progress. We are not attributing this to anyone, but officers are not supposed to give incriminating material to the media,” said Justice Shinde.
Sibal said he was in agreement and had earlier spoken out against such practice. “When an investigation by CBI, NIA etc. is being conducted, the officers continually give media statements to prejudice the trial,” he said. “There is another side to the story. Media trial is going on on TV channels, including Republic TV. This has even been deprecated by the Supreme Court. It is a vicious circle,” he said.
After hearing the submissions, the Bench noted that if the investigation officer issues summons to Goswami, as per Salve’s submission, Goswami would honour it and appear before the police to cooperate with the probe. The Bench also said that if such summons are issued, Goswami could move the Court for relief.
The next hearing has been scheduled for November 5.
Earlier, the Mumbai Police had clarified that while the FIR, filed on October 6, did not name Republic TV, the names of the three channels came up during interrogation of the suspects in the case. A senior police officer said the FIR was only the beginning of the investigation.
“In the FIR, the name of India Today is mentioned; however, it is not substantiated by any of the accused or witnesses. On the contrary, the accused and witnesses are specifically mentioning the names of Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema. Thorough investigations are going on,” Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe had said.
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