A Delhi court’s order to register an FIR against Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, for illegally airing information from the Delhi Police investigations into the death of Sunanda Pushkar—wife of Shashi Tharoor—is another attack on press freedom.
The order followed a complaint by the Congress MP, in which he accused Goswami of unlawfully obtaining the information from police files and hacking his email account and broadcasting some of their contents on Republic TV. Tharoor’s counsel argued that “it is not permissible to share information/documents related to any investigation to any public member/media, till the case is pending”.
Shashi Tharoor already has a criminal defamation suit and a civil defamation suit pending against Arnab Goswami.
Metropolitan Magistrate Dharmender Singh’s order should be condemned by all journalists and those who believe in freedom of expression. Equally, it should worry journalists because it strikes at the very heart of their ability to do their job.
Many investigations by journalists have been based on gaining access to official documents that are not in the public domain, or that are not, in the court’s language, “permissible to share” but have been in the public interest.
By stretching the same logic, the most recent revelations in The Hindu on the Rafale deal, which are based on official documents that have clearly been leaked to The Hindu Chairman N. Ram, would not have been published.
Similarly, the Business Standard report on unemployment figures being the highest in 45 years was based on the leaked report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO).
This action against Arnab Goswami must be seen as another attempt to intimidate the media and is all of piece with several other instances when journalists have had criminal cases lodged against them for doing their jobs.
An FIR was lodged against journalist Rachna Khaira after she exposed a possible security breach in the UIDAI data in The Tribune, last January.
Suvarna news channel journalist Ajith Hanumakkanavar faced an FIR for allegedly disturbing communal harmony with his remarks during a TV broadcast on Ayodhya, this January.
Each instance is a way of muzzling the media and must be opposed. There are no two ways about this: irrespective of our opinion of the journalist and her/his work, we must ‘defend’ their ‘right to say it’.
Under the NDA government, there is a great opacity in governance – a blanket of secrecy shrouds decision-making and access to information is hard to come by.
Under such circumstances, journalists have to ferret out information by whatever means available to them, including accessing official or confidential documents.
What is at stake in the Goswami case is a matter of principle. It is not a defense of Goswami, the journalist, but of his right, and that of any journalist, to obtain information that may have a bearing on public interest.
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