New Delhi: A day after Attorney General KK Venugopal’s comments before a Supreme Court bench requesting dismissal of petitions on the Rafale deal that relied on ‘stolen’ documents published by The Hindu newspaper, as also suggesting possible usage of Official Secrets Act against journalists, several media organisations, including The Editors Guild of India, on Thursday condemned the attempts to “muzzle” the media.
“The Attorney General’s statements made in open court suggesting that the publication of such reports and documents imperiled national security and therefore should be deemed as criminal, has the potential of sending out a chilling effect to one and all in the media,” said a joint statement by the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corp and the Press Association.
The statement also called for a re-examination of the Official Secrets Act as well as the defamation law given the potential of their misuse against the Fourth Estate.
The statement added that the “implications and ramifications of the statements made by the top most legal officer are not only for the media but also for the sources of information that journalists rely on….and contradict the very idea of a free press in an open democracy
Earlier, the Editor’s Guild of India also "unequivocally” condemned the Attorney General's comments before a Supreme Court Bench, seeking to dismiss petitions to review the court's judgement on the Rafale deal, The Hindu reported.
Venugopal on Wednesday had sought a clean chit to the Union government on the Rafale deal, on the ground that the review pleas relied on documents "stolen" from the Defence Ministry. He had also informed the top court that the government was looking into whether it was a crime under the Official Secrets Act.
"Although the A-G later clarified that the investigation and contemplated action would not be initiated against journalists and lawyers who used these documents, the Guild is perturbed over such threats," a statement released by the Guild stated.
"Any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act against the media is as reprehensible as asking the journalists to disclose their sources," the statement said.
The Guild also urged the government to refrain from any action that might undermine the freedom of the media and journalism.
On Wednesday, N Ram, the author of the series of articles on Rafale published in The Hindu had said that the documents were published in public interest.
"You may call it stolen documents...we are not concerned. We got it from confidential sources and we are committed to protecting these sources. Nobody is going to get any information from us on these sources. But the documents speak for themselves and the stories speak for themselves," Ram told PTI.