The Supreme Court on Tuesday said there can be no existence of free citizens if the news media cannot speak, and therefore journalistic freedom lies at the core of freedom of expression, but it is not absolute.

The observations were made by a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah while asking Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami to move the competent court to quash an FIR for a news show on Palghar mob-lynching.

The bench though refused to transfer the probe from Maharashtra Police to CBI, it extended some relief to Goswami by providing him protection from coercive action for the next three weeks.

On May 11, the bench had reserved the judgment on pleas by Goswami. Justice Chandrachud, pronouncing the judgment, said India’s freedom of press stays as long as journalists can speak truth to power, but noted freedom is not “absolute”.

The bench observed that free citizens cannot exist if the news media cannot speak. “Journalistic freedom lies at the core of freedom of expression,” said the top court.

Goswami had sought transfer of the FIRs filed in connection with his shows on the Palghar lynching and Bandra migrant gatherings. Goswami had urged the apex court to quash the cases filed against him as it was an attempt to silence him as a journalist.

The top court reiterated that it is the duty of the court to protect the freedom of expression and noted multiple complaints against Goswami will have a stifling effect. Multiple FIRs were filed against Goswami regarding the Palghar lynching in various states.

The top court agreed to quash all FIRs except the one currently under investigation in Mumbai.

The apex court refused to quash the FIR and asked Goswami to seek quashing of it before the competent courts and follow the normal process by moving the Bombay High Court.