Authors Mohd Rameez Raza & Raj Shekhar

Legal Charges Pressed: Mr Arnab Goswami in trouble, yet again?

The controversies surrounding Mr Arnab Goswami, the Editor of Republic TV, seems to have been spiking lately. From being interrogated for alleged defamatory statements made against the Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi, related to mob lynching incident that took place in Palghar, to the recent complaint, under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (CTNRA), for allegedly running a television channel “to create communal hatred, religious polarization and threatening national integrity”. The complaint has been lodged by Activist Nilesh Navlakha under Section 2 of the Act. The Copies of the complaint were sent to Pune Police Commissioner and the District Collector.

The 14-page complaint states that the cause of action is the controversial Primetime Show on Palghar Lynching, where Mr Goswami launched a communal tirade on his show and went to the extremes of accusing Sonia Gandhi of getting the two Hindu sadhus murdered in Palghar mob lynching. However, the complaint pointed out that it isn’t strictly “restricted” to that particular episode, but rather takes into consideration various debates moderated by Mr Arnab Goswami on Republic TV and Republic Bharat.

In total, six prominent and recent shows as well as comments made in them by Mr Goswami, which were repeated time and again, have been mentioned in the complaint contending that all of them are religiously polarizing innuendos and half-truths. However, before forming any viewpoint on the same, it becomes pertinent to understand the objectives of the Act in question.

Understanding the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995

The Act may not ring a bell in many of the minds as it has hardly been used on a wide basis. However, one such event may undoubtedly bring back the memories of this Act, i.e. the NDTV national shutdown for 24 hours on November 9th, 2016 owing to the sharing of “strategically sensitive” details during its coverage of the Pathankot attacks in January. It is an Act to regulate the operation of cable television networks in the country and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The regulation of cable television networks is ensured by following a two-step process, i.e. by a compulsory registration for cable operators and laying down code of conduct to regulate content to be broadcasted by the registered cable operators. Sections 5 and 6 of the Act deals with advertisement code and programme code respectively and all services shall run in conformity with the codes. The Act also has penal provisions which state that for the first offence and Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years or with fine which may extend to INR 1000 or with both can be imposed by the Court, or for every subsequent offence and imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years and with fine up to INR 5000 shall be imposed.

The Arnab Goswami Case

Social activist Nilesh Navlakha last month lodged a criminal complaint with the Commissioner of Police, Pune, through his lawyer Asim Sarode, under Section 2 of the Act. The FIR also contends that the shows being broadcasted are in direct violation of Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

After a closer analysis of the nature of the complaint and the points raised, we find that the incidents reported allegedly violate Rule 6(1)(c) of Programme Code, which deals with programmes aimed at “attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes”; Rule 6 (1)(h) dealing with a show that contains anything affecting the integrity of the Nation; and, lastly Rule 6 (1)(m) which deal with a show that contains visuals or words which reflect a slandering, ironical and snobbish attitude in the portrayal of certain ethnic, linguistic and regional groups.  As the codes have been allegedly breached, and Section 5 of the CTNRA specifically states that

No person shall transmit or re-transmit through a cable service any programme unless such programme is in conformity with the prescribed programme code.

the alleged transmission can be seen as a direct breach of Section 5.

Such an incident would then attract punishments under Section 16 of the CNTRA, Act which has provisions for punishment of people for contravention of provisions of this Act. Questions have been raised even to the extent of challenging the behaviour of Mr Goswami terming it as ‘Impulse Control Disorder.’ Accusations have been made terming this whole show as nothing less than an organized crime syndicate aimed at brainwashing the human minds to follow a fanatic terrorist thought process.

The justification given for action against Mr Arnab Goswami is that when WhatsApp group admins are being booked under the law, then why the CTNRA provisions are not being invoked against such tendencies of his. If the allegations are found to be true and the police commissioner is indeed convinced that it is “disturbing the fabric of the nation”, the transmission of Republic News Channel can be stopped with immediate effect. However, it would be difficult to shut down Republic’s transmission so the state government can be intimated about the issue and a case can be filed. Additionally, Mr Goswami could face a fine, imprisonment of 2 years or both. The allegations, if sustained, could prove to be really fatal for not just Mr Goswami but for the News Network as a whole.

CNTRA: The Controversy, Implications, and Legality

With the start of satellite-based communications, the Indian government was suddenly hit by the issue of managing the quality of content that was being delivered. The transmission from the satellites were mainly western shows which showcased a culture to which the Indian audience was not only alien but highly sceptical. The Act was intended at curbing a perceived ‘cultural invasion’ by regulating the content of the programmed being telecasted.

However, over the years, the CNTRA has acted as a watchdog for the programmes trying to propagate hate speech, innuendos, and inflammatory content, by restricting their broadcast, suspending their licenses and imprisoning people who were behind such acts. As a result of this, a very common point that has been raised every now and then is that CNTRA violated our Right to Freedom of Speech and expression, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 19.

Though some restrictions, are wider and not strictly within the scope of Art. 19(2); for example, rule 7(3) of the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, which prohibits advertisements with a religious or political object, but time and again the validity of its other provisions have been upheld by the Court of Law. The above incident and other such related incidents are matters of grave concern, for not only do they pose a threat to the integrity of the nation but to an individual’s life as well. CNTRA acts as a safeguard to the uncontrolled publicization of inflammatory ideas and nation-dividing notions. As far as the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is concerned, it needs to be understood that it also comes coupled with a duty; a duty to safeguard the rights of other people too, and hence in no way can the Act be questioned on the basis of its legality. As far as the question of Mr Arnab Goswami’s case goes, only the time shall tell what lays in store for the future.

About the Authors: 

Mohd Rameez [2017-22] is pursuing BBA. LL.B from Faculty of Law, Integral University. His interest areas include International Law, Human Rights Law, and Indian Constitutional Law.

Raj [2019-24] is pursuing BA. LL.B from NUSRL, Ranchi. His interest areas include Cyber Laws, Indian Constitutional Law, and Intellectual Property Rights Law

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