The Karnataka High Court has refused to interfere in a police investigation against the managing director of Power TV, a Kannada television channel, for alleged extortion. Power TV in September had aired an “expose” on alleged corruption involving the family of Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa.
Meanwhile, a separate bench of the High Court reserved orders in an anticipatory bail plea filed by the Power TV official against his arrest in the extortion case.
Power TV managing director Rakesh Shetty approached the High Court last month after the Bengaluru police crime branch began investigations into an alleged case of extortion filed against him by Ramalingam Construction Company Limited director Chandrakanth Ramalingam.
Ramalingam, in a police complaint filed on September 24, had accused Shetty of coercing him into saying that he made payments to politicians for contracts, and complained that these conversations were recorded.
In the course of arguments, Shetty’s advocates argued that the alleged extortion case had been used by the state government to pull the plug on Power TV in the aftermath of the airing of the allegations of corruption against Yediyurappa’s family.
They also alleged that Ramalingam, “who had voluntarily provided and shared the details of the manner in which money was illegally and by corrupt means obtained from him by the family members of Chief Minister became a turncoat under pressure and influence of the ruling class in the State”.
“It is only in order to stifle the voice of the free press that the present complaint has been filed since the news reported by the channel was unpalatable to the Chief Minister and his family,” they argued.
The state government, however, argued that the extortion case was not intended to curb the freedom of the press. They argued that if the complaint was initiated on the basis of the allegations broadcast by the channel, then police would have removed the videos which continue to be available on Facebook and YouTube. This “would indicate that the complaint and the investigation is not at the behest of the Chief Minister. The investigation has been carried out in the normal course on the basis of a complaint”, they said.
Hearing both sides of the argument, the High Court in its November 5 order refused to interfere with the FIR filed against Shetty.
The court “cannot give a finding as regards whether the allegations made in the complaint are malafide or not. In the present case, it is not so and therefore, investigation is required to be carried out to ascertain the truth of the matter,” a single judge bench of Justice Suraj Govindaraj said.
Justice Govindaraj, however, asked the Bengaluru police crime branch to return equipment seized from the channel, which led to Power TV being forced off the air between September 29 and October 7.
The court has also said that the police cannot block the social media channels of Power TV on the grounds of investigation since this obstructs the day-to-day work of the channel.
“Facebook and YouTube accounts are important aspects of the petitioner’s business to carry out his day-to-day business. The respondent police cannot on the ground of investigation block the same as to come in the way of petitioner carrying out his day-to-day business,” the court said.
“For the purpose of investigation, only the integrity of the data is required to be preserved and that can be so done by downloading the relevant content from the Facebook and YouTube account of the petitioner…”
The high court also said that the police can carry out investigations on data stored on servers in the channel by mirroring hard disks and that there is no need to keep the servers under seizure. “I am of the considered opinion that it is only the data in such servers which are required for the purpose of verification by investigating agency, the hard disk could always be cloned and after retaining the original hard disk the cloned hard disk along with servers, laptops, etc could always be returned,” Justice Govindaraj observed.
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