The Supreme Court on Friday protected a TV news channel editor and restrained authorities in various states from taking any coercive actions against him in connection with multiple FIRs for playing a doctored clip of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the telecast of a programme on July 1.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and JB Pardiwala issued notice to Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh governments and said that no action be taken concerning the FIRs lodged in Raipur and at Sikar on the same cause of action.
The bench said that the investigation concerning the first FIR lodged against TV news editor Rajnish Ahuja at Jaipur will continue.
Senior advocate Siddharth Dave, appearing for Ahuja, said he is ready to participate in the investigation launched at Jaipur but there are multiple FIRs lodged against him over the same telecast and he cannot be harassed by being summoned at different places simultaneously.
The bench noted that the channel had withdrawn the telecast on the very next day and had tendered an apology over the issue.
It referred to the order passed by the top court with respect to the news anchor of the show.
On July 8, the top court granted relief to TV news anchor Rohit Ranjan and 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 had come from a vacation bench 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.
The news anchor later apologised and the news programme was withdrawn.
Ranjan had told the top court that as of now, three FIRs have been registered against him at Jaipur, Raipur, and Noida against the same broadcast.
He had said an unintentional error was committed in the programme and an apology has been tendered.
In his petition, 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Ranjan has also sought a direction that no coercive action be taken against him for the withdrawn programme for which he and the channel have apologised.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 by the news anchor has said.
It has 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 judgments, the plea said, "There can be no second FIR and consequently there can be no fresh investigation in respect of the same cognisable 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 has 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.