The Bombay High Court on Tuesday granted interim relief from arrest to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and stayed two first information reports filed against him for alleged communal coverage of Palghar lynching case and the gathering of migrant workers outside the Bandra station, Live Law reported.

A division bench of Ujjal Bhuyan and Riyaz Chagla said “prima facie no case was made out” against Goswami. The court said no coercive steps should be taken against him until final hearing and disposal of the petition. They added that the anchor had not intended to cause public disharmony or incite violence through his television show, according to PTI.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing Goswami, argued that a journalist has the right to report about communal incidents. “At a time when the country is in lockdown, calling Arnab for investigation should be looked into,” he added. “A party in power is calling a journalist for investigation because he made an adversarial statement against the leader of a political party. What was he asked, what is the structure of your company? Who owns Republic TV and Bharat? What is your wife’s role? What is the relevance of these questions?”

Salve said invoking Section 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) against the anchor is malicious, adding that making personal allegation of someone being communal comes under the ambit of freedom of expression.

Advocate Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the state of Maharashtra, submitted that the allegations made against Goswami in the FIRs were sensitive in nature and that press freedom does not include the right to indulge in communal propaganda. “A journalist has a right to freedom of expression and right to private investigation of an incident,” he told the court. “But a journalist does not have a right to declare that a person got killed only because he was a Hindu. What if it turns out to be false after an investigation? We need to investigate the motive. Why did Arnab assume that the man was killed because he was a Hindu. What is this if not putting one community against the other?”

Pointing to the April 14 migrant workers protest, Sibal said Goswami targeted a mosque in Bandra that had no link with the gathering. “Arnab asked: Who caused the congregation of a crowd near a Masjid,” he said. “Why didn’t he ask – Who caused the congregation of a crowd near Bandra station? If Masjid was used just as a statement of fact, why did he twist the question? So he’s not using Masjid as a matter of fact. A journalist has no right to consider his investigation to be gospel and air it to create disturbance.”

Sibal said Goswami’s shows and his intention will be investigated.

The FIRs

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.

Meanwhile, the second FIR was filed after Irfan Abubakar Shaikh, secretary of Raza Educational Welfare Society, referred to a report aired on the channel on April 29. A large number of people had assembled at the Bandra station in the hope of returning home during the nationwide lockdown to rein in the coronavirus pandemic. The complainant said Goswami made multiple communal and inflammatory statements on air about the gathering.