The Bombay High Court on Monday told the Mumbai Police that if it proposes to name 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.
A Division Bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and M.S. Karnik was hearing a criminal petition filed by ARG Outlier Media Private Limited and Mr. Goswami, who is the managing director and editor-in-chief of Republic Media Network. The plea seeks to quash the FIR registered by Kandivali Police Station against them on October 6. The charges have been made under Sections 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant, or by banker, merchant or agent), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
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”.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing on behalf of Mr. Goswami, argued that Mumbai Police had mala fide interest, that they might arrest Mr. Goswami, and sought interim protection from arrest. To which the court said it could not pass that order as Mr. Goswami had not been named as an accused.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Maharashtra government and Mumbai Police, said summons would be issued to Mr. Goswami. However, he [Mr. Sibal] could not commit on Mr. Goswami not being arrested.
While perusing the FIR, the court said, “It is not an encyclopedia. We would like to peruse the investigation papers and see what probe has been done from today till the next date of hearing.
The court added, “In case the Investigating Officer proposes to name Mr. Goswami as accused in the case, then, as done with the eight persons, summons shall be issued to him and he shall then cooperate with the police.”
The court also raised questions on whether it was correct on the part of the Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh to hold press conferences in such matters.
The Bench said, “We don’t know if it is the correct method or procedure to give interviews to the media. We are not talking about just this matter but many sensitive cases…we find police giving information to the media even when investigation is in progress. Police are not supposed to reveal incriminating information pertaining to the case.”
Mr. Sibal agreed to this and said the petitioner channel should assure the court it would not indulge in the vilification of the police and conduct a media trial.
Justice Shinde then said, “Media is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy and, hence, they too need to behave responsibly.”
The court directed the Mumbai Police to produce papers of the investigation in a sealed cover on November 4, and said it would hear the matter on November 5.