Outlook, Open oppose any restraint on publication of conversations

Even as the Supreme Court permitted the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), the Chennai Press Club and Jain Television to intervene in the petition filed by industrialist Ratan Tata, the Outlook and Open magazines — which published the conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia — opposed any order restraining the media from publishing them. Appearing for Outlook, senior counsel Anil Divan submitted before a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly: “The taped conversations deal with matters of the public interest, good governance, possible corruption and secret and baleful influences on the centres of power, and are absolutely essential for a meaningful debate by the Indian citizen.”

He said: “The freedom of the press and media is to be zealously guarded in a democracy because the objective is to inform the citizen and protect the citizen's right to know how governmental authorities function.”

Mr. Divan said Mr. Tata had entered into a public debate by writing an open letter which was widely disseminated. He had referred to political parties and the former Telecom Minister A. Raja, and also defended the Tata group's behaviour as ethical. The whole controversy was now put in the public domain by Mr. Tata himself, counsel said.

‘Private interest litigation'

Earlier, senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Mr. Tata, explained how industrial houses controlled the media and read out the investments made in each media group.

Mr. Divan opposed Mr. Salve raising the issue without any averment or affidavit, and pointed out that Mr. Tata had not sought any relief against the media. This was only private interest litigation.

Senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Open, endorsed Mr. Divan's views. “We don't know what the petitioner's grievance against the Open magazine is.” The petition was not maintainable, and if Mr. Tata was aggrieved, he could file a defamation case, said Mr. Dhavan.

CPIL, Chennai Press Club intervention

Senior counsel Shanthi Bhushan, appearing for the CPIL, said the organisation was intervening in this matter and that all tapes should be brought into the public domain.

In its application, the Chennai Press Club, represented by senior counsel K. Subramanian, opposed any restraint order being passed against the media. “The intercepted materials are ordinarily not likely to be secrets of the state. Their disclosures are neither prohibited nor can at present be penalised.

It said: “Those who seek to interfere in matters of state and influence decisions concerning state policy in the political arena are hardly expected to contend that a cloak of secrecy be maintained around their roles. They may have a right to privacy in relation to their private lives, but not in relation to activities which are wholly political or related to the public affairs of the state.”

The Bench posted further hearing to February 2, 2011, and in the meanwhile permitted Mr. Tata to file a supplementary affidavit and the respondents to file their response by then.

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