The Bombay High Court on Monday said if the Mumbai police crime branch proposes to arraign Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in the television rating points (TRP) case, it should first issue summons to him as was done for eight others in the case. A division bench of justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik said if such a summons is issued then Goswami shall appear before the police and cooperate with the investigation.
The court also directed police to submit for its perusal investigation papers pertaining to the case in a sealed cover by November 5 when it would hear the matter. “The FIR is not an encyclopedia. We would like to peruse the investigation papers and see what probe has been done from today till the next date of hearing," the court said.
The court was hearing a petition filed by ARG Outlier Media Pvt Ltd, which owns Republic TV, and Goswami seeking to quash the FIR lodged on October 6. The petition has also sought a direction to transfer the case to CBI to ensure a fair and transparent probe and also on the ground that the case will have pan-India repercussions.
The plea said the HC should stay the investigation and restrain police from taking any coercive action against the petitioners pending hearing of their petition. Appearing for the petitioners, senior counsel Harish Salve sought the court to grant Goswami protection from arrest.
“The police have been targeting him (Goswami) and there is apprehension that he may be arrested," Salve said. Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for Maharashtra government and police, said since Goswami has not been named as accused in the case as of now, there cannot be any order granting him protection.
Sibal said till now police have issued summons to eight persons in connection with the TRP case and questioned them. “None of these persons has been arrested," he said.
The bench noted that since Goswami has not been named as an accused in the case, it cannot pass an order granting him protection or directing the police to not take any coercive action against him. “In case the Investigating Officer proposes to name petitioner No 2 (Goswami) as accused in the case, then, as done with the eight persons, summons shall be issued to him (Goswami). The petitioner No 2 shall then cooperate with the police," the court said.
The court also raised questions on whether it was correct on the part of the Mumbai police and its commissioner Param Bir Singh to hold press conferences in such matters. “We don’t know if it is the correct method or procedure to give interviews to the media. We are not talking about just this matter but many sensitive cases…we find police giving information to the media even when investigation is in progress. Police are not supposed to reveal incriminating information pertaining to the case," Justice Shinde said.
Sibal, while agreeing to this, assured the court that the police shall not speak to the media with regard to the TRP scam case. “But at the same time, even the petitioner channel should assure the court it will not indulge in vilification of the police and conduct a media trial," he said.
To this, Justice Shinde said, “Media is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy and, hence, they too need to behave responsibly." Salve, while seeking for the FIR to be quashed, argued that no offence is made out and the entire conduct of the police reeks of malafide and was only an attempt to silence the voice of the petitioners. “The petitioner has been targeted by the police and the Maharashtra government since his strong reports during the Palghar lynching incident. A slew of FIRs has been registered against him after his reports then. This whole thing is a disguise and excuse to target Goswami and Republic TV," Salve said.
Sibal, however, said the Palghar lynching incident and the petitioners’ reports on the same have nothing to do with the present case. “The present investigation pertains to money paid to rig TRPs in order to gain commercial profit. The investigation is at a nascent stage. Maybe many other media channels are also involved," Sibal told the court.
The TV channel filed the plea in HC on October 16, a day after the Supreme Court refused to hear a plea filed by one of its senior officials challenging the summons issued to them by the Mumbai police. “The officers and key managerial persons of the channel and Arnab Goswami have reasonable and tangible grounds to believe they will be apprehended by the Mumbai police in connection with the FIR which is false, frivolous, politically motivated and an attempt to muzzle the media and silence the news reporting by Republic TV," the petition said.
The Mumbai Crime Branch registered the FIR under various sections of Indian Penal Code for cheating, criminal breach of trust and criminal conspiracy against Republic TV and its senior officials and also against two other local regional channels. The plea also said the court should initiate a CBI inquiry and disciplinary proceedings under the service rules against Param Bir Singh for “gross dereliction of duty and abuse of power".