7 Notices, 1 Reporter: The Legal Tussle Between Times Now & Mamata
The first notice was issued 25 minutes before the story went on air.
On 31 July, English news channel Times Now aired a sting operation which they claimed ‘exposed’ Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and no. two in the Trinamool Congress Abhishek Banerjee. The sting “unravelled” business transactions between Abhishek and tainted businessman RK Modi and also “dubious” financial transactions between Abhishek’s firm Leaps and Bounds and several non-banking financial corporations. Two people shown in the sting, the Randar brothers, also claim that Abhishek is the ‘Maalik Of Bengal’. “Will CM Probe Her Own?” screamed the headlines.
On the very day, 25 minutes before the story went on air, the channel’s Kolkata correspondent Tamal Saha was sent a vaguely worded notice from the Shakespeare Sarani Police Station, summoning him to meet an officer “in the matter of an enquiry”. What this matter of enquiry was, was not mentioned in the notice.
When the channel filed a response asking what the matter was, a second notice was issued stating that a complaint had been filed by Prabhu Dayal Randar, one of the people featured in the Times Now sting. Randar had alleged (according to the police notice that has been accessed by The Quint) that Tamal and Times Now had approached him with an “ulterior motive that might not have any relation with his journalistic endeavours”.
According to sources in the channel, the reporter was questioned for three-and-a-half-hours on a number of subjects like what motivated him to do the sting, who asked him to do it, whether he had extorted money while doing it etc.
Meanwhile, the channel sent its legal team to Kolkata to assist the reporter with his police appearances. This is where things got murky for the channel.
Criminal Case Against Times Now Lawyer
On 8 August, Abhishek Banerjee’s lawyers got an injunction from the Sealdah Criminal Court stating that the channel will not be allowed to air the sting operation. The report has been removed from their website since.
According to sources, since the order was not served to the channel on the same day, one of the members from the Times Now legal team, Neville Master, went to the court on the next day to secure a copy.
At the court, he allegedly entered the judge’s room, met the judge and was eventually caught photographing the order in the court’s record room.
The judge thereafter filed a case against Master and he was charged under Sections 419, 447 and 353 of the IPC, which means impersonation, criminal trespass and deterring a public servant from discharging duty.
Master spent 24 days in the Presidency jail in Kolkata before he was granted bail by the Calcutta High Court. The case is now sub-judice.
Arrest Without Warrant
On 31 August, the Entally police station issued a summon to Tamal regarding Master’s case. He was again questioned for three hours. Sources say the questioning initially revolved around Master’s case and whether he had motivated Master’s alleged crime and then wandered to the news report and what motivated him to do it. Thereafter, the reporter was issued another notice on 16 September, this time under Section 41(a) of the CrPC which allows the police the right to arrest without a warrant.
According to sources in the channel, on 16 September, the day he was issued the first 41(a) notice, the reporter had received a call from a police officer saying that he must not make the appearance and that there were plans to arrest him. Police sources have denied this as “probably a rumour”.
Sources in the police also tell The Quint that there have been evidence that suggest that the reporter was complicit in Master’s case. “The matter is under investigation, hence I cannot reveal details of the case,” said Vishal Garg, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime).
Times Now has since filed for anticipatory bail in the Calcutta High Court and the reporter has been out of Kolkata on assignment. Thereafter he has received four more such notices.
When contacted, Times Now said:
The matter is under investigation and also sub-judice, hence it will not be entirely appropriate for us to make a comment on this matter at this stage.Times Now to The Quint
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