Hours after Attorney General of India K K Venugopal told the Supreme Court that reports in The Hindu on the Rafale deal were sourced from confidential “stolen” documents, N Ram, chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group who wrote the reports, said the newspaper’s stand is, “what we published is perfectly justified (and) in public interest”.
“We have not stolen the documents,” Ram told The Indian Express.
Ram did not want to comment on the proceeding in the Supreme Court since he is “not privy to all that was said”.
On “allegations that these are stolen documents, and we have published stolen documents”, Ram said the documents came from “confidential sources”.
“We are fully committed, absolutely committed to protect the confidentiality of our sources…. No force on Earth is going to change our mind on that,” Ram said.
Emphasising that the documents were not bought, he said, “We didn’t pay any money for this information; (it) came on its own, purely in public interest.”
Maintaining that it may be called “stolen documents under law,” or that access to them was unauthorised, Ram said, “That is how information comes out – it is very much a part of investigative journalism.”
This information, which “should have been in the public realm has been withheld, has been suppressed”, he said. “There has been a cover-up,” he maintained. “It is information that should have been given, (but) it was not given to Parliament. And I believe much of the information we have published has not been submitted to the Supreme Court either…”
When documents related to the Bofors deal had come out, and were published, Ram said, “nobody talked of using the Official Secrets Act”.
“We are fully protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and also under the Right to Information Act —- specifically 8(1)(i) and 8(2) overrides the Official Secrets Act,” the veteran journalist maintained.
Calling Official Secrets Act (OSA) an “obnoxious piece of legislation and legacy of the British Raj”, Ram said there have been several demands from “all democratic forces, and the press” to remove it. He said the OSA was enacted “purely in the interests of the British Raj, during imperialism” and since Independence, “it has been very rarely used against publications”. He said the OSA may have some application in cases of espionage, but that is a different matter.
Ram cited examples of Pentagon Papers, Watergate and leaks by WikiLeaks, internationally, where secret government documents were published by media and the government had claimed they were stolen. “We have heard this (charge that documents were stolen) before,” he said.