Authored by Divyanshi and Arhit Shukla, 3rd year students at NUSRL, Ranchi.
An FIR was lodged against the famous journalist Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV over alleged defamatory statements made against Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi. As the question of law arising on the right to freedom of the press, it directly stifles the right of freedom of speech and expression. The Apex court observed that free citizens cannot exist if the news media cannot speak. Freedom of speech is a principle that bolsters the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their thoughts and opinions and impart them without the fear of legal sanction or censorship or retaliation from the public authority. To protect this right, the Constitution of India has incorporated a provision that guarantees the freedom of speech and expression complemented with reasonable restrictions says Article 19(1). It is one of the broadest fundamental rights given by the Indian Constitution to its citizen. The idea of Fundamental Rights was taken from the USA Constitution. In the USA, the right of freedom of speech and expression is massively protected from the government restrictions by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, where it guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the right of individuals to speak freely or right to press. But in India, there are various restrictions on freedom of speech and expression which may be imposed on the following grounds like decency, morality, security of states, and most importantly on the sovereignty and integrity of India. There is a balance between the rights and liabilities which are maintained by the Indian Constitution. Article 19 (1) (a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression but the rights guaranteed are not absolute rights. The restrictions imposed on freedom of speech and expression were done with an objective to differentiate between the concept of liberty and anarchy. But the real problem lies with the freedom of the press as to what extent they can exercise their fundamental right by living in the ambit of restrictions. The suppression of speech in its most painful consequence would be mental sterilization. Freedom of speech and expression is a comprehensive right and includes freedom of expression concerning both public and private affairs. In the present case, the apex court also reiterated that it is the duty of the court to protect the freedom of expression.
The root cause of Arnab Goswami case
On April 21, the Republic TV owner, editor-in-chief, Mr. Arnab Goswami launched into a tirade against the Congress party president Sonia Gandhi over the Palghar lynching where he accused her of deliberately maintaining a “silence” on the Palghar lynching matter because she simply hails from Italy. The harangue delivered by him became controversial with the accusations. The religious leaders in Palghar, who were on their way to Silvassa on April 16, were lynched by the local residents on the suspicion that they were thieves. His searing monologue on one of his shows on Republic TV questioning Sonia Gandhi’s silence over the lynching of 2 Hindu sadhus in Palghar Maharashtra, a state where her party is in power, has caused a lot of heartburn in the party nourished ecosystem. He asked if she would have been quiet if Muslim or Christian religious leaders would have been lynched instead of Hindu leaders. The incident was given a communal angle as it has been seen in India that if a non-Hindu citizen is killed, he will be given wider coverage by the media as well as the personalities from different domains show support and condemns the killings.
Throughout his diatribe, he continued to blame her, calling her ‘Italy waali Sonia’ and finally spitting out her maiden name, ‘Antonia Maino’, as though it burned his tongue. The controversial incident exposed the variety of two endemic cultures in India: the ascendancy of Arnab Goswami and other influential media persons on the Indian irreproachable audience and the underlying misogyny in how women in public positions are criticized. He was accused of maligning a woman on national television in order to sell a communal angle to his audience. He used his bully pulpit to destroy the minorities which were injected by Gandhi into India’s body polity. Arnab Goswami filed a petition for challenging the FIRs registered against him, in various parts of the country for the alleged defamation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
The ambit of Article 19 (1) (a)
The Apex Court said that India's Freedom Will Rest Safe As Long As Journalists Can Speak to Power without being chilled by a threat of Reprisal. Justice D.Y Chandrachud said that “Speaking for myself believe there should be no restraint on the media. I am averse to imposing any restrictions on media”.
In India, freedom of the press is implied from the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Art. 19(1)(a). There is no specific provision ensuring freedom of the press as such but the framers of the Indian Constitution considered freedom of the press as a vital part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). The freedom of the press is regarded as a species of which freedom of expression is a genus.[ii] The right enshrined under the aforesaid article carries with it the right to publish and impart one’s own ideas, opinions, and views with complete freedom resorting to all available means of publication. But the right is not unfettered as it is subjected to reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19(1)(2). Herein the allegations were specifically made on the ground of Defamation which acts as a counterbalance to the right to free speech. Defamation is defined as attacking another’s reputation by making or publishing a false statement to a third party with the intent to harm the person’s reputation. The thin line which balances the two laws lies in two ingredients say- false statements and publication to the third party. In the present case, the statements made by Arnab Goswami were true to the facts as the congress president does belong to Italy and there was nothing in that statement that could harm the reputation of Sonia Gandhi. Therefore, the allegations of defamation should be strictly looked upon by the court as defamation suits tend to be used for strategic purposes, to muzzle critics and naysayers into silence. The apex court opined that the right of a journalist under the Article 19 (1) (a), the freedom of the press in India stands on no higher footing than the freedom of speech of a citizen, and the press enjoys no privilege as such distinct from the freedom of the citizen. The Supreme Court has emphasized in several cases the importance of maintaining freedom of the press in a democratic society. Articles and news are published in the press from time to time to expose the weaknesses of the government. This leads at times to the suppression of the freedom of the press by the government. It is, therefore, the primary duty of the Courts to uphold the said freedom and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with the freedom of the press contrary to the constitutional mandate.[iii]
In the case of Romesh Thakur v. State of Madras[iv], it was stated that freedom to spread information is an intrinsic part of freedom of the press. However, there is no freedom to criticize in India as the press cannot provoke the public against the government or cannot abet the riots, rebels, or mutiny of the state. Also, no one is allowed to expose a person to hate or ridicule by means of any expression. The Congress party has argued that the anchor has defamed the Congress President. Article 19 (1) (a) definitely gives the freedom of the press and in the case of Arnab Goswami; the right has been duly exercised within the ambit of Freedom of Press by stating true facts without an intention to harm the reputation of the congress president.
The facts never lie as India is ranked 140th in the World Press Freedom index by the Reporters over the borders among 180 countries. The media is considered to be the voice of the public to the government but in recent times a contrast to this has been observed as some media houses are promoting the ruling parties and the others criticizing it. The media houses are not discussing the relevant issue and are acting like the puppets of the people of high dominance. In the Arnab Goswami Case, the TV anchor exercised his fundamental right guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, where he attacked Congress President Sonia Gandhi over her “silence” on the Palghar lynching matter. The way he delivered his monologue might have hurt the sentiments of the gigantic history of the Congress party by virtue of which the FIR’s were filled in various states. The Supreme Court has noted that the FIRs are worded in identical terms and language, content, and sequencing of paragraphs. However, the court gave the alternative relief sought for transfer of the case to CBI and refused to entertain the prayers for quashing the FIRs.