An Unpleasant Voice: Arnab Goswami v. Union of India
Written by Anirudh Agrawal [i] and Ayush Narayan [ii]
[i] [ii] First Year students, Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.
“The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should, therefore, be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you'll forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie.”
J.K. Rowling 
Journalism plays an important role in providing the citizens of the country with information as well as in helping the citizens to raise their voice against anything that stands in the way of maintaining the belief of unity and integrity known as a nation. What rights are hoarded by a journalist has always been a topic of deliberation and it is quite interesting to see where the line is drawn and who draws that line. A journalist in different scenarios has to speak for and against many individuals, social groups, certain norms of some religion, sects beliefs, etc. How can anyone question as to what should be told and what should not be told because news can dive into the ocean of propaganda in no time?
In Silkin v. Beaverbrook Newspapers Ltd., , Lord Diplock stated (at pp. 745–46):
“Freedom of speech, like the other fundamental freedoms, is freedom under the law, and over the years the law has maintained a balance between. ”
The gist of the statement is that although everyone has a right to speak their mind, at the same time another person's dignity should also be kept in mind and the argument that he or she deserves cannot be taken into account.
On the 23rd of April 2020, Arnab Goswami had more than 100 FIRs registered against him in several states, including Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Telangana, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh. Goswami was accused of spreading communal tension, hatred, ‘disturbing communal harmony’, and also using defamatory statements against Congress president Sonia Gandhi during discussions on the Palghar incident on his channel. The FIRs against Mr. Goswami was filed under Sections 153, 153A, 295A, 500, 505(2), and 120B of the Indian Penal Code. The Supreme Court bench, comprising of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, stayed all the FIRs against Goswami holding that they had a “stifling” effect on the exercise of freedom of speech and expression, barring the one that was registered against him in Nagpur and the same was ordered to be transferred to Mumbai for further investigation. The court further said that no other FIRs would be filed against Mr. Goswami regarding the same incident. The FIRs filed against Mr. Goswami accused him of:
• Making defamatory remarks against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and making provocative comments on the Palghar Lynching incident and promoting enmity between groups, during his news show on the 23rd of April, 2020.
• Making statements that communalized the incident in Bandra where several migrant workers gathered in large numbers near the Bandra railway station, demanding to be sent back home, amid the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
Bandra Migrant Workers
On May 2, a complaint was filed by Irfan Abubakar Shaikh, secretary of Raza Educational Welfare Society, at Pydhonie police station in South Mumbai, who accused both the channel and Goswami of creating communal disturbance over the gathering of migrant workers in Bandra and trying to create hatred against the Muslims in the country during his show on April 29. Shaikh said that during his show, Goswami unreasonably raised a question on the gathering of the migrants only near mosques where it had no links with the mosques despite that they highlighted the issue and tried to create communal disturbance by targeting a mosque in Bandra that had no link with the protest. He further said that “They are trying to show that Muslims are responsible for the spread of the coronavirus infection”. Shaikh highlighted some comments by Goswami, which were tried to fuel hatred against Muslims like ‘Ab Se Thodi Der Phle Mumbai Ke Bandra Me Jama Masjid Hai.’ ‘Aur Is Jama Masjid Ke Paas Achanak Hazaro Logo KI Bheed Jama Hogae.
A complaint was filed against Goswami by Maharashtra Energy Minister Nitin Raut, over his statements, against Sonia Gandhi on the Palghar Lynching case. During the show, Goswami said that Sonia Gandhi would not have remained silent if Christians would have been the victims and also used comments like “Italy’s Antonio Maino” for her. Goswami was accused of charges under various provisions of criminal defamation as well as sections dealing with insulting religious beliefs of a group.
Appearing for Goswami, senior advocate Harish Salve, argued that the case is one of a “political party targeting a journalist as the complainants are members of one particular party”. On the other hand, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Maharashtra government, argued that Goswami’s statement violated Article 19 and that the journalist “cannot stigmatize people” by way of sensationalizing matters. To aspire to a balance between the rights of journalists and accountability, the apex court, however, said that exercising the fundamental right to speech and expression is not absolute and is answerable to the legal regime.
Article 19(2) and its relevance in the case
The fundamental right to free speech and expression, as enshrined under Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution, is regarded as one of the primary elements of our robust democracy. It allows all the citizens to participate extensively and effectively in the social and political affairs of the country. However, as rightly asserted that no freedom can be absolute and unlimited, a balance is struck between individual liberty and public order by imposing ‘reasonable restrictions’ under Article 19(2), by the State. Moreover, the limitations which can be imposed under the same serve a two-fold purpose, i.e. on one hand, they specify that these freedoms are not absolute; on the other hand, they put a limitation on the power of the legislature to restrict the same.
In the case of Arnab Ranjan Goswami vs UOI, the Supreme Court bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud established that “India’s freedoms will rest safely as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal”.
“Journalistic freedom lies at the core of the fundamental right to free speech protected by Article 19(1)(a)”, the court stated. Conferring more transparency to its verdict, the court further said that, “Our decisions hold that the right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) 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”
The top court further added that India’s freedom of press stays as long as journalists can speak truth to power, but this freedom is not absolute. The court, while acknowledging that free expression cannot be equated or confused with a license to make unfounded and irresponsible allegations against the state or any of its authorities, said that exercising the right of free speech and expression is not absolute and is answerable to the legal regime enacted concerning the provisions mentioned under Article 19(2).
Section 153,153A, 295A of IPC
Most of the FIRs filed against the petitioner hold their ground on three sections of the Indian Penal Code- 153, 153A, 295A. According to the respondent, in the show “Puchta hai Bharat”, Arnab Ranjan Goswami targeted people from a particular religion and showed them in a bad light.
The sections and their relevance, in this case, is given below:-
• Section 153 talks about Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause a riot and under this section, the violence of such scale occurred or not, decides the term or length of imprisonment but what speech or which statement can be classified as a hindrance in what we can recognize as the social and communal peace of the country has always been a matter of debate. In the particular case, two news reports have been discussed, the first when Arnab talks about the event of Palghar where two sadhus were killed and the second report is of Bandra, where it has been said that Arnab tried to make a statement according to which, people from a specific religion gather during the lockdown.
The exact statement is ‘lockdown main har bheed masjid ke paas hi kyon jutati hai (why does every crowd in the lockdown always gather near a mosque)?
• Section 153A covers every person who does wanton vilification or spreads hatred against a religion, language, or regional group or caste or community, etc. In a country like India which has such diversity, enmity can be a very easy venom to inject in the society and this section covers anyone who commits such an act which ensues this venom or invokes fear or a feeling of insecurity amongst members of any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community. The petitioner is of the view that there has been no hate spread against religion and the broadcast of the news in both the scenarios comes under article 19(2) of the Indian constitution.
• Section 295A is more focused on feelings, to understand the purpose of the section, we must understand that religion is a very personal thing and even a mild slang can be a matter of huge insult for a person and this is what makes the section so important. Something which one considers an insult, was just a normal statement and nothing more for the person who said it and this is the reason why the section only considers the aggravated insult that was perpetrated with malicious intention.
Ingredients of Section 295-A
• The accused must insult or attempt to insult the religion or religious beliefs of any class of citizens of India.
• The said insult must be with a deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of the said class of citizens.
• The said insult must be by words, either spoken or written, by signs or by visible representation or otherwise.
• The offense under Section 295-A is cognizable and a non-bailable and non-compoundable offense.
• The police have the power to arrest a person charged under Section 295-A without a warrant.
In the case of Mahendra Singh Dhoni v. Yerraguntla Shyamsundar, decided on 20.04.2017, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, A.M.Khanwilkar and M.M. Shantanagouda, JJ said that:
Section 295A IPC (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) “does not penalise any and every act of insult to or attempt to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens but it penalizes only those acts of insults to or those varieties of attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens, which are perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class”.
In this case, also, the person has the right to argue whatever he feels is correct as long as it does not disturb the social fabric and creates social unrest. Presenting the true story to the people is the key job of all journalists but twisting and constantly bickering about the facts of a case when the investigation is still going on should be avoided. We must remember that the We’re living in the age of social media where anything could go viral in no time, so the well-known public figures are it, anyone, from politicians to journalists, should be cautious and show more vigilance before presenting their views on air because it could create panic, distrust and even hatred in the society pertaining to any group. He further talks about how this poses a conflict with the Right of freedom and expression. A journalist whose job burdens him with a duty of being blunt is a very easy target in being challenged by the above conflict. When a journalist reports, his main objective is or we can say that it should be to provide the audience the truth that they seek and he or she should reflect a moral fiber of standing up even in the darkest of times.
J. K. Rowling,Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 220 (1st ed.1997).  Silkin v. Beaverbrook Newspapers Ltd.,  1 W.L.R. 743 (House of Lords) Arnab Ranjan Goswami vs Union Of India, (2020) 1 S.C.C. 450 (India) Fresh case against Goswami for report on Bandra commotion, https://www.thehindu.com/news, (last updated MAY 04, 2020).  Arnab Ranjan Goswami vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. (19.05.2020 - SC) : MANU/SC/0448/2020  India Const. art. 19, cl.1  India Const. art. 19, cl.2  Arnab Ranjan Goswami vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. (19.05.2020 - SC) : MANU/SC/0448/2020  Section 153, Indian Penal Code, 1860  Section 153A, Indian Penal Code, 1860.  Section 295 A, Indian Penal Code, 1860.  Mahendra Singh Dhoni v. Yerraguntla Shyamsundar,(2017)1S.S.C. 450 (india)  Michel Rosenfeld, Hate Speech in Constitutional Jurisprudence: A Comparative Analysis (2002-2003) 24 Cardozo Law Review 1523, 1523. Bibliography
J. K. Rowling,Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 220 (1st ed.1997).
Silkin v. Beaverbrook Newspapers Ltd.,  1 W.L.R. 743 (House of Lords)
Arnab Ranjan Goswami vs Union Of India, (2020) 1 S.C.C. 450 (India)
Fresh case against Goswami for report on Bandra commotion, https://www.thehindu.com/news, (last updated MAY 04, 2020).
Arnab Ranjan Goswami vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. (19.05.2020 - SC) : MANU/SC/0448/2020
India Const. art. 19, cl.1
India Const. art. 19, cl.2
Arnab Ranjan Goswami vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. (19.05.2020 - SC) : MANU/SC/0448/2020
Section 153, Indian Penal Code, 1860
Section 153A, Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Section 295 A, Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni v. Yerraguntla Shyamsundar,(2017)1S.S.C. 450 (India)
Michel Rosenfeld, Hate Speech in Constitutional Jurisprudence: A Comparative Analysis (2002-2003) 24 Cardozo Law Review 1523, 1523.