As part of the suo motu disclosure mandated under the RTI Act
The report on paid news — listing specific allegations and naming the accused — written by a sub-committee of the Press Council of India (PCI) last year could finally see official publication on the Council's website.
While the Council had tried suppressing the report last year — voting 12-9 against submitting it to the government or making it public — the Central Information Commission (CIC) has now directed its publication by October 10, as part of the suo motu disclosure mandated under the Right to Information Act.
PCI chairman Justice (retired) G.N. Ray told The Hindu that he would hold telephonic discussions with other members of the Council before taking a decision on whether to comply with the CIC's directive. “We have time till October 10 to decide what to do,” he said. If the PCI decides not to comply, it will have to appeal to the High Court.
“I am extremely happy with the CIC decision,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, the former PCI member who co-authored the paid news report with fellow journalist K. Sreenivas Reddy. “What was important about our report was that it named names, and included a fairly large amount of circumstantial evidence to back the allegations.”
The sub-committee's report was commissioned in July 2009 after widespread reports about the payment for news by political parties and candidates in the Lok Sabha elections that summer. The comprehensive 71-page report was submitted in April 2010, but in a July 2010 meeting, the PCI adopted a diluted “final” report which failed to name the accused. They consigned any mention of the original report to a footnote, which merely said it would “remain on record of the Council as reference document.”
Despite this official suppression of the report, the report was leaked by PCI members, widely published online on news websites and blogs, circulated among journalists and politicians, and sent to all Members of Parliament by enterprising citizens.
In an effort to force the PCI to release the report, an RTI application was filed in January 2011 by Manu Moudgil requesting a copy.
The PCI replied that legal opinion had been sought in September 2010 about providing the report to the public and to RTI applicants. Later, it asked for an additional fee.
On his second appeal, the CIC ruled that Mr. Moudgil should be given a copy by the end of this month, and the report should be made available on the PCI website by October 10.
“I get vicarious pleasure, thinking of the downright myopia of the publishing lobby, bordering on stupidity, in trying to scuttle the report. It became the forbidden fruit, and more people probably read it because of the attempt to scuttle it, than if it had been just another document submitted to the government,” said Mr. Thakurta.