The Supreme Court’s decision to review its earlier Rafale judgment offers an endorsement of the rights of a free press, and removes the threat of using the Official Secrets Act (OSA) against news organisations that publish material covered by the OSA. The verdict rubbishes the Attorney General’s indignant protests against use by journalists of ‘stolen’ documents and puts the public interest and freedom of speech above technical objections.
The judgment is an instance of the constitutional mechanism for checks and balances at work. This is a notable victory for democracy and its integral part and support system, the free press.
The verdict is a setback for the government that has been claiming that the highest court of the land has cleared the Rafale deal. The court has not formally initiated a review of its earlier verdict and only dismissed objections to a review.
However, the fresh material available on the subject — defence ministry’s internal file exchanges complaining about interference with the work of the official negotiating team and assorted waivers of normal conditionality, besides revision of the prior verdict’s assumption of clearance by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the Public Accounts Committee — makes it hard to preclude a review, when it is taken up.
No longer will government representatives be able to shout down journalists who quiz them on Rafale with a counter-query as to whether the questioner has lost faith in the Supreme Court. The political fallout for the government and the Opposition is, however, less momentous than the principles upheld by the court in defence of press freedom and the invalidity of seeking to subordinate that freedom to secrecy laws.
The two different and concurring judgments suggest that even material that is not published but held secret by the government could be admitted as evidence, should the public interest so warrant. This, too, is most welcome and would enable the press to do its job better.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
via A resounding vote for press freedom