Wednesday, 29 June, 2022
HomeOpinionWhy Arnab Goswami’s arrest puts India's long-cherished freedom of speech in danger

Why Arnab Goswami’s arrest puts India’s long-cherished freedom of speech in danger

The Maharashtra Police's high-handedness in Arnab Goswami's arrest needs to be condemned, and swift action is required.

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The sudden arrest and alleged assault of Republic TV’s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami by the Raigad Police in Maharashtra has brought to the forefront concerns about India’s long-cherished freedom of speech and whether it is losing its pride of place in the Constitution.

Throughout India’s well-established democracy, courts have accorded the highest respect for protecting this right enshrined in our Constitution under Article 19 (1)(a). Yet, the detention of one of India’s most celebrated journalists — in a case of abetment to suicide of architect Anvay Naik in which the Raigad Police previously found no illegality — raises several issues of propriety.

A bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, while hearing the matter in which the Maharashtra government opposed a Bombay High Court order that stayed a probe into two First Information Reports (FIRs) filed against Republic TV, had earlier observed that “some people were targeted with greater intensity and needed more protection”.

The FIRs pertained to Goswami’s observations during his television programme on the Palghar lynching incident and migrant labourers gathering in large numbers in Mumbai’s Bandra area. While nobody is above the law, the wisdom of the Supreme Court’s observation appears to have been borne out by the latest sequence of events in Goswami’s case.

Arnab Goswami’s lawyer has alleged that the TV anchor was denied access to his legal team, and that the police used force during the arrest. Moreover, reporters who were trying to cover the event were reportedly stopped by the Raigad Police.

The freedom of speech, enshrined in the Indian Constitution, consists of three essential elements. First, freedom of access to all information; second, freedom of publication; and third, freedom of circulation. In short, freedom of speech is regarded as “the mother of all other liberties” in a democratic society.

Time and again, the courts have made it clear that interference by the state machinery to the right to freedom of speech should not be tolerated. To that extent, the recent filing of an FIR by the Maharashtra Police against several employees of Republic TV needs to be carefully examined.


Also read: Arnab Goswami’s arrest exposes Right-wing hypocrisy on free speech and political vendetta


Court vs State

In D.K. Basu vs State of West Bengal (1996), a letter written by a non-governmental organisation regarding custodial deaths was treated as a writ petition, the Supreme Court came to the view that there should be some controls on police.

The Court held that a police officer could not act arbitrarily while arresting a person. There are guidelines that police officers have to follow: 1) The person under arrest has the right to meet his/her lawyer; 2) S/he has the right to medical examination every 48 hours; 3) The arresting officer must inform the accused person’s relatives regarding the arrest; 4) The accused has to be produced before a magistrate within 48 hours; 5) An entry must be made in the diary regarding the arrest; 6) A police control room should be set up in all the districts and state headquarters, and the information regarding the persons’ arrest has to be communicated; 7) All the details, including the memo of the arrest, has to be sent to the magistrate.

In the case of Anuradha Bhasin and Ors vs Union of India (2020), the Supreme Court said that “responsible Governments are required to respect the freedom of the press at all times. Journalists are to be accommodated in reporting and there is no justification for allowing a sword of Damocles to hang over the press indefinitely”.

In the Romesh Thapar vs The State of Madras case (1950), the Supreme Court held that the criteria for imposing restrictions on the fundamental rights given in Article 19(1) are those offences or acts against public order that are “aimed at undermining the security of the State or overthrowing it”.

Often referred to as the ‘Pentagon Papers’ case, the landmark US Supreme Court decision in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) defended the First Amendment right of a free press against prior restraint by the government. The US Supreme Court held: “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”


Also read: This is the 2018 suicide abetment case behind Arnab Goswami’s arrest


Maharashtra won’t have it easy

Measured by these stringent standards in cases of restriction on freedom of speech, it is clear that the state machinery in Maharashtra has its task cut out in Arnab Goswami’s case. In response to the cases filed against him, a high court bench had observed that there could not be “the spectacle of a Damocles’ sword” hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate. In that backdrop, the action against Goswami smacks of an attempt at curbing media liberty.

In a recent case, the Supreme Court underscored concerns about the growing trend of police summoning individuals for social media posts that criticised political dispensations.

It came following a 29-year-old woman Roshni Biswas, who had challenged the issue of a police summons for questioning her about a Facebook post complaining that large congregations at Raja Bazaar area in Kolkata violated lockdown norms.

The Supreme Court issued a stern warning to the West Bengal Police, which issued summons to a Delhi resident for criticising the state government for non-enforcement of lockdown norms. Underlining the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution, a bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said: Do not cross the line. Let India remain a free country. We, as the Supreme Court, are here to protect free speech. The reason why the SC was created by the Constitution is to ensure that ordinary citizens are not harassed by the State.”

Though a journalist’s right to freedom of speech is no different from that of an ordinary citizen, the media has always been regarded as the fourth estate of democracy. If this pillar is allowed to be trifled with on flimsy pretext, this will undermine the confidence of the citizens in the judiciary’s capacity to protect our freedom.

By all accounts, therefore, the police high-handedness seen in Arnab Goswami’s arrest needs to be condemned, and swift action is required to redress the situation. Otherwise, our very democratic foundations would appear to be in danger.

The author is a partner at The Law Point (TLP). She was formerly the chairperson of the National Commission for Women. Views are personal.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Very well written and researched. The government and regulator should be separate to ensure impartiality.

  2. What about all the journalists who abused our PM in the name of press freedom? Despite courts ruling that he is innocent many journalists still accuse him for Gujarat riots. It is easy to find fault in any journalist. What if BJP government picks up Rajdeep Sardesai for inciting violence in Delhi? All those who are saying this is another case (which was closed in 2018) should be careful. Many journalists can be arrested for other charges. This creates a precedence. Tomorrow BJP might come to power in Maharastra. What happens if they start doing the same thing?

  3. he has been arrested on a alleged abetment of suicide. where is the question of press freedom. and I do not remember the author ever speaking against the arrest and atrocious charges of sedition on them simply because they dare to speak against the govts or the people at the helm raising issues concerning common man and accountability of govts. no double standards please.

    • All arrests should be condemned including Arnab’s arrest. An eye for an eye makes all blind. Tomorrow any government can arrest any journalist citing dubious reasons.

  4. It is not freedom of speech to fabricate lies about Palghar and incite hate against Christians and Muslims. It is encourages Hindu vigilantes. What if minorities raised vigilantes and beat up Cowswami.

    Fascists talk about freedom of press when they get a taste of their own medicine. It is like when the Red Army started destroying the Nazis, they started asking to be treated according to Geneva Conventions for POWs.

    • I beleive that i am an indian..due to my birth place in india …for doubting persons .clearly mentioning my parents are indian…
      I am very happy to know that arnab cowsamy is being remanded for 14 days..and his show channel scrolling that India For Arnab…Iam very sorry to say cowsamy…If u think iam an indian Iam not with u. Even if u dont think that i am not an indian..i dont care.because i feel that u r not an indian…

  5. The author seems to be living in a bygone era!! If anyone thinks freedom of speech exists in India in letter and spirit, they obviously have their head stuck in the sand!!

    Why was Umar Khalid arrested, that too under UAPA?! Only because he SPOKE against the government, and encouraged others to SPEAK up too.. Why are members of the Kabir Kala Manch in jail?! Because they SANG SONGS Modi & Co didn’t like!! Which freaking ‘procedures’ are being followed for Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde?! Why was Kafeel Khan in jail for so long?! Why was Mehbooba Mufti under house arrest? What crime did she commit? She just pissed Modi off!!

    Was the despicable harassment of Rhea Chakraborthy really about Shushant Singh? NO.. it was a chilling message to the rest of us.. that this is what we can do to you, any of you.. just because it suits us!!

    Are we supposed to roll over and die, as Modi and Shah walk all over us, destroying random lives in their greed for power?! No way! It’s time to fight back.. As Ajit Doval so often says – you need war, for peace! And unlike in the other cases, there’s clear proof against the deranged Goswami!

    Of course, Modi-Shah and gang will come hard at the Maharashtra govt. They desperately need to let their sycophants know that they will be supported for breaking laws, and doing illegal things that favor them.. like the cops in the Delhi riots.. and the Thakurs of UP!!

  6. All this is political drama, no doubt. Arnab had served his masters well, but he stretched things too far. While his shrill propagandist version of journalism was clearly with a certain agenda of his masters, when trouble befell him, they seem to have deserted him. Other than lip service about fascism and recalling the Emergency he does not seem to be receiving much help. He was left holding a hot potato.

  7. After Arnab Goswami Shivsena mouth piece Saman’s editor may face a similar situation in future.

  8. I fail to understand from this article how this case is related to freedom of speech at all? Goswami is in jail for abbetment of suicide. And even if there was a political agenda involved, it is quite reasonable for the police to reopen this case considering its mishandling when it was closed.
    Can the author please reply?

    • Yes. You are right. Why everyone talks about freedom of speech. He done a crime so this arrest. No one is above the law.

    • Mr Khusi, you do not need to send your army,to arrest a person like Arnab Goswami.You may have difference views from him.That does not mean you have to support the Maharashtra government to arrest his 1000 plus staff.India Today Group,was found guilty in TRP scam however Republic was named.Mr Goswami’s crime here was,reporting about Palghar Sadhus Lynching,SSR and Disha Salian suicide and exposing drug mafia in Bollywood.Now Mr Khushiji,wouldn’t you like to see justice is done ,to all these drug smugglers,who are destroying our youth?

  9. Only Arnab’s arrest puts FoE in danger? We had FoE before that?

    What about the other journalists or critics who have been booked or jailed before that. Some just for a tweet or article.

    India was one of the worst countries in press freedom indices even before Arnab was arested. Remember Kashmir !

    As a lawyer you must be knowing our country has a poor human rights record. People lower down the socio-economic order are languishing in jails. Our hearts will not cry for them.

    • Students of Jamia including a pregmant girl from Shaheen Bagh are put in prison. Dr. Kafeel Khan who supported the students is in gaol.

      And these fascists are shouting about freedom of speech now. The ones who do cow lynching and rape 8 years olds.

  10. Sorry, You can’t separate Arnab Goswami’s high handedness, one has to look it in a broader pespective. Time and again , He has misused his profession, position and power . Yes there is ways and means to charged him legally, but then how come you expect, politicians to behave like a saint. Specially when Modi-Shah led regime, misused government machinery for scoring political points. In such scenario, you can expect least.
    We as a nation becoming more of fractured society, on a slippery slop. Using and misusing MEDIA Social MEDIA is becoming a kind of competition.
    So It’s understatement while saying free press or freedom of speech in danger. It is already is in deep danger. We are already a fascist nation. Period.

  11. missing the woods for the tree? This has got nothing to do with his being a journalist? he has not been arrested for the venom he has spewed on TV

  12. Completely one -sided, tendentious, partisan analysis. It is a matter of business dealings which led to one party committing suicide because of the principal ‘S failure to pay for work done, causing extreme financial hardship to the. Contractor. In this Arnab was not acting asa journalist. The closure of the abetment case by by some low police functionary has not been accepted by the deceased persons family, and it had to be reopened. A govt. which has been hitting at journalists dissidents and protesters with draconian laws has suddenly found voice to shout ‘freedom of speech’. Hypocrisy typical of this cabal.

  13. This is a Government of baap, beta and a thug. The thug has survived so many years of public life despite being corrupt. He will finish off Maharashtra and any semblance of governance because he is firing on the shoulders of baap & beta. Anyway, baap & beta can’t see beyond a term. These are the perils of democracy.

    • The thug is a Maharashtran Hindu nationalist also, and he was a bedfellow of the Gujarati Hindu nationalists. The problem is Hindus produce too many thugs and endorse them. Then thugs fall out.

  14. Journalist or not, nobody should be above law. Condemn the action if he paid his dues and not responsible for the suicides.

  15. It is shocking for you to think that someone like AG’s arrest would threaten democracy.

    the kind of lies and hatred this man was blatantly spewing using ‘freedom of speech’ to bully the govt’s opponents, spread lies that promote hatred to incite violence, divert attention from relevant topics to shield govt failures, giving voice to violent social elements and doing all this while allegedly manipulating TRPs to make money under the garb of journalism.

    He is like those refugees with extremist views who go to Europe to escape their own autocratic countries and use their freedoms to silence everyone else and kill the very democracy that gave them a voice.

    AG deserves what he gets within the laws of this country.

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