No coercive action against TV news anchor in doctored clip case: SC

The apex court was hearing the plea of the anchor who is facing FIRs in some states. Ranjan later apologised and the news programme was withdrawn.
Supreme Court
Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: In a relief to TV news anchor Rohit Ranjan, the Supreme Court on Friday restrained various state authorities from taking coercive steps against him to take him in custody in connection with multiple FIRs for playing a doctored clip of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the telecast of a programme on July 1.

The interim protection to the news anchor came from a vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and J K Maheshwari which also issued notices to the Centre and states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh seeking their responses on Ranjan’s plea for quashing of complaints or FIRs concerning the telecast.

“Issue notice. Service on the Union of India be effected through the office of the Central Agency,” the bench said. “In the meanwhile, there will be an interim order restraining the respondent-authorities from taking coercive steps against the petitioner to take him into custody in connection with the anchoring/telecast of DNA on July 1, 2022,” the top court said in its order.

The apex court was hearing the plea of the anchor who is facing FIRs in some states. Ranjan later apologised and the news programme was withdrawn.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Ranjan, told the bench that as of now, three FIRs have been registered at Jaipur, Raipur, and Noida.

He said an unintentional error was committed in the programme and the petitioner had apologised also. Luthra said two concerned persons of the company had accepted their fault and have resigned.

“Today, my difficulty is, the first FIR is in Jaipur, the second FIR is at Raipur in Chhattisgarh,” Luthra said, adding an FIR is also there in Noida. In his petition filed through law firm Karanjawala and Co, the news anchor has sought relief including the quashing of FIRs or complaints or their clubbing and transfer to one place.

Ranjan has also sought a direction that no coercive action be taken against him for the withdrawn programme for which he and the channel have apologised.

The petition has sought security for the journalist, his family members, and his colleagues associated with the programme in question.

''The present writ petition is being filed under Article 32 of the Constitution praying for the quashing /clubbing of almost identical criminal complaints. FIRs were filed across the country against the petitioner. The petitioner prays for the stay of coercive action during the pendency of the present petition,'' the plea said.

It said Ranjan ''anchored /hosted a programme on Zee News on July 1, 2022. The news show inadvertently misattributed certain quotes and the error was immediately rectified. An unconditional apology was tendered by the petitioner and Zee News and the news show was withdrawn even prior to the registration or filing of any FIR and complaint''.

However, subsequently, multiple FIRs and complaints have been filed against the petitioner under various provisions of law for the same incident, it said.

Referring to various judgements, the plea said, “There can be no second FIR and consequently there can be no fresh investigation in respect of the same cognizable offence or incident giving rise to one or more cognizable offences.” ''Since it is impossible for the petitioner to approach various courts/police stations all over the country in respect of such FIRs/complaints, the present writ petition is being filed under Article 32 against the violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution,'' it said.

Furthermore, the issue was covered under the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the Programming Rules against the broadcaster, it said.

''Therefore, when there is special law dealing with the issues in question, there was no question to invoke the criminal statute or registration of FIRs,'' the plea said.

On Tuesday, a police team from Chhattisgarh had reached Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad town to arrest the anchor from his home but he was instead arrested by the Noida police who released him on bail later.

In Raipur, Senior Superintendent of Police Prashant Agrawal had told PTI that a case was registered against Ranjan and others at Zee News on Sunday for allegedly promoting enmity between different groups and outraging religious feelings of people based on a complaint by Congress MLA Devendra Yadav.

In his complaint, Yadav said a video, in which Gandhi described those attacking his Wayanad office as children and said he had no ill-will against them, was ''mischievously'' used by the TV channel on July 1 to suggest he was forgiving the killers of Udaipur tailor Kanhaiya Lal.

The FIR in Raipur was lodged under Indian Penal Code sections, including 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class), 467 (forgery), 469 (forgery to harm reputation), 504 (intentional insult).

On July 2, a day after the video was aired, Ranjan apologised for mistakenly playing Gandhi's statement out of context by linking it with the Udaipur murder case.

''It was a human error for which our team is apologetic. We apologise for it,'' he had tweeted in Hindi.

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