The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to quash the first information reports filed against Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami for his comments against Congress President Sonia Gandhi in the Palghar lynching case, PTI reported. The court also refused to transfer the inquiry in a defamation case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

However, the bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud extended the interim protection against being arrested granted to the journalist by three weeks. The top court also directed the Mumbai police commissioner to provide him protection, according to Live Law.

A bench of Justices Chandrachud and MR Shah had earlier reserved orders on the petition filed by Goswami on May 11. Goswami claims the FIR is “politically motivated” and that the Mumbai Police “harbours ill-will and malice” towards him. He sought protection from coercive action and quashing of the FIR.

Complaints were filed against the Republic TV founder after he accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of orchestrating the Palghar lynching in Maharashtra. Three Mumbai residents, who were on their way to Silvassa on April 16, were lynched by local residents in Gadakchinchale village of Palghar district on the suspicion that they were thieves. Two of the men were sadhus.

The Republic TV anchor had questioned Gandhi’s silence on the incident and made several allegations. “Would Sonia Gandhi have been quiet if Muslim preachers or Christian saints had been killed instead of Hindu sants?” Goswami had asked on his show.

In another FIR, Goswami has been accused of communalising the Bandra migrant incident of April 14. A large number of people had assembled at the Bandra station in the hope of returning home during the Covid-19 lockdown. The complainant, Irfan Abubakar Shaikh, secretary of Raza Educational Welfare Society, referred to a report aired on the channel on April 29. He said Goswami had targeted a mosque in Bandra that had no link with the migrants protest, and made multiple communal and inflammatory statements on air.

The court said that Goswami did not have a choice in regard to the mode or manner in which the investigation should be carried out or in regard to the investigating agency. “There can be no quashing of FIR under Article 32,” the court said, referring to an individual’s right to move the Supreme Court to seek justice. “The petitioner has the liberty to pursue remedy before the competent court. The FIR does not cover offence of criminal defamation, therefore it is not necessary to address prayer on that issue.”

The court observed that to subject a journalist to numerous FIRs and complaints across several states on the basis of identical allegations has a “stifling effect” on the exercise of their freedom. “This will effectively destroy the freedom of the citizen to know of the affairs of governance in the nation and the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society,” the court said. “The intervention of this Court is necessary to protect the rights of the petitioner as a citizen and as a journalist to fair treatment [guaranteed under Article 14] and the liberty to conduct an independent portrayal of views.”

At the same time, the court said that a journalist’s fundamental right to speak truth to power is “no higher than the right of the citizen to speak and express”. “But we must as a society never forget that one cannot exist without the other,” it said. “Free citizens cannot exist when the news media is chained to adhere to one position.”

The judges also confirmed the earlier interim order of April 24, which allowed the consolidation of several FIRs filed against the journalist in various parts of the country and their transfer to Mumbai, where Goswami lives. The first information report by Congress minister Nitin Raut was initially filed in Nagpur, but the Supreme Court transferred the matter to Mumbai. Goswami was investigated by the Mumbai Police for over 12 hours in relation to the FIR.

On April 23, Goswami had accused the Congress of attacking him and his wife Samyabrata Ray when they were returning home from work. The Mumbai Police made arrests in connection with the attack.