The Editors Guild of India on Thursday condemned the government’s allegation that documents related to the Dassault Rafale deal based on which petitioners and a section of the media questioned the deal were “stolen” from the Ministry of Defence.
In a statement, the Editors Guild expressed its fears that accusations such as the one made by Attorney General KK Venugopal on Wednesday “will intimidate the media in general and curb its freedom to report and comment on the Rafale deal in particular”.
As the hearing on Rafale began in the Supreme Court on petitions seeking review of its December 14 verdict, Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said that documents related to the deal “were stolen from the Defence Ministry”.
He told the told the court that an investigation was underway in the matter.
Calling it a “very sensitive case”, the AG said that “those who put documents on Rafale deal in public domain guilty under Official Secrets Act and contempt of court”.
In its statement on Thursday, the Editors Guild of India said that it “unequivocally condemns the Attorney General’s comments before the Supreme Court pertaining to documents based on which the media, including The Hindu, had reported on the Rafale deal”.
Pointing out that the AG clarified that no action will be taken against lawyers and journalists who used the documents, the Guild said that it is still “perturbed over such threats”.
“Any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act against the media is as reprehensible as asking the journalists to disclose their sources,” the Guild, which is headed by senior journalist Shekhar Gupta, said in the statement.
The Guild also urged the government not to undermine the media’s freedom and independence.
Venugopal’s remarks came when petitioner, advocate Prashant Bhushan, told the Supreme Court that critical facts on Rafale were suppressed when the petition for lodging FIR and investigation was filed.
Bhushan said that apex court would not have dismissed the plea on 14 December for probe into the Rafale deal if there had not been a suppression of facts.
The AG then argued that the documents relied upon by Bhushan were stolen from the Defence Ministry.
He further sought the dismissal of Rafale review petition and perjury application as they relied on “stolen documents”.
The Supreme Court on December 14 last year gave a clean chit to the Centre on the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.