J&K High Court on Wednesday quashed a criminal complaint by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senior leader Naeem Akhtar against editor-in-chief of the news channels Republic TV, Arnab Goswami.
Akhtar, also a former minister in the 2018 PDP and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition government, had filed the complaint against Goswami and anchors of his channel before Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Srinagar.
The complaint alleged that on 4 July 2018, the news channel had broadcast a “defamatory and malicious” news item against Akhtar following a letter written by a member of BJP to the then Governor of the erstwhile state of J&K.
The member said a close aide of the then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti was involved in “wholesale” corruption and favoritism.
According to Akhtar, even though the member did not make a mention of his name, Goswami, “deliberately and intentionally” mentioned his name in connection with the allegations leveled in the letter.
It was also alleged in Akhtar’s complaint that the anchors of the programme repeatedly and intentionally kept on mentioning his name in connection with the allegations made in the letter.
Akhtar said, “The anchors talked about ‘massive corruption happening in JK Projects Construction Corporation’ concluding that the alleged corruption was happening at my behest”.
Subsequent to the complaint by Akhtar, the CJM had issued process against Goswani and the anchors on 27th December 2018.
Hearing the matter today Justice Sanjay Dhar observed “the Magistrate, while issuing process against the petitioners (Goswani and others), has not applied his mind to the whole material before him”.
“Akhtar”, the court of Justice Dhar said, “has himself admitted in the complaint that the BJP member had written a letter to the Governor which contained allegations of corruption etc. against him”.
“He had also placed on record a copy of the letter along with his complaint. The news programme, which is contained in a compact disk clearly shows that the programme was based on the letter of (the BJP Member) and no allegation or imputation emanated from the news anchors or the channel”, said the judge.
Akhtar, the bench said has also placed on record along with the complaint the news paper cuttings of different newspapers in which contents of the letter were extensively referred to and quoted.
“Therefore, it was obvious that the letter in question was already in public domain. Had the Magistrate applied his judicial mind to the material on record, he would have come to the conclusion that the alleged offence is not made out against the accused,” the court said, adding, “It seems that the Magistrate has approached the whole matter lightly, and in a mechanical manner while issuing the process against (Goswami and others).”
The court referred to a judgment from a British court, “those who fill a public position must not be too thin skinned in reference to comments made upon them. It would often happen that observations would be made upon public men which they know from the bottom of their hearts were underserved and unjust; yet they must bear with them and submit to be misunderstood for a time.”
“Issuing a process in a criminal complaint against an accused is a serious business and it cannot be done in a casual and mechanical manner, particularly in cases relating to defamation,” Justice Sanjay Dhar said.