Any attempt to use Official Secrets Act against media reprehensible: Editors Guild

New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India and other media bodies on Thursday condemned the govt’s stand before the Supreme Court on the Rafale deal reportage, and said any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act against the media was reprehensible.

The Guild denounced the “threats” against the media in the matter and urged the govt to ref­rain from initiating any action that might undermine the media’s free­dom and independence. “The Editors Guild of India unequivo­ca­lly condemns the AG’s comments before the SC pertaining to papers based on which the media, inclu­d­ing The Hindu, had reported on the Rafale deal,” it said.

Attorney General K K Venugopal on Wednesday sought dismissal of a petition for a review of the apex court’s earlier judgment on the Rafale deal on the ground that the fresh petition relied on documents “stolen” from the Defence Ministry and that investigations were going on to find out if it was a crime and violative of the Official Secrets Act, it said.

“Although the Attorney General later clarified that the investigation and contemplated action would not be initiated against journalists or lawyers who used these documents, the Guild is perturbed over such threats,” the statement said. These will intimidate media in general and curb its freedom to report and comment on the Rafale deal in particular, the Guild said.

“Any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act against the media is as reprehensible as asking the journalists to disclose their sources,” it said. “The Guild denounces these threats and urges the government to refrain from initiating any action that might undermine the media’s freedom and independence,” the statement said.

A group of press bodies also expressed concern over the government’s submission in the apex court that documents related to Rafale aircraft deal have been “stolen” from the Defence Ministry. In a joint statement, the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps and the Press Association said the Attorney General’s statements suggesting that the publication of such reports and the documents imperiled national security and therefore should be deemed as criminal, have the potential of sending out a “chilling effect” to one and all in the media.

“The implications and ramifications of statements made by top-most legal officer of the government are not only for media but also for sources of information that journalists rely on. “These statements in addition to submissions made by the government in court that the Official Secrets Act had been violated contradict the very idea of a free press in an open democracy like ours,” the statement said.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi as well as other Opposition parties have been attacking the Modi government over the Rafale deal, alleging corruption and favouritism. The government has denied all allegations.

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