In its order on the Rafale deal, the Supreme Court (SC) of India has rightly drawn a parallel with the US Supreme Court’s verdict on unhindered publication of the Pentagon Papers and held that the publication of three documents by The Hindu newspaper on Rafale was in consonance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.
In the 1971 historic legal battle between the US executive and the fourth estate, the US Supreme Court had thwarted the Nixon administration’s attempt to block the publication of information on the Vietnam war.
While rejecting the government of India’s plea that the review petition on the Rafale deal was not maintainable as they were based on ‘stolen’ documents, the SC said, “No law enacted by Parliament specifically barring or prohibiting the publication of such documents on any of the grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) of the constitution has been to our notice. In fact, the publication of the said documents in The Hindu newspaper reminds the court of the consistent views of this court upholding the freedom of the press in a long line of decisions commencing from Romesh Thappar vs the state of Madras and Brij Bhushan vs the state of Delhi.”
It is clear that the government’s argument is about ethics – about the way those documents had been procured, and not about its authenticity. Moreover, by tagging the documents as ‘stolen’, the government has given a seal on its authenticity.
The question is: Can the fourth estate investigate the dealings of the executive, even sometimes crossing the boundary of the Official Secrets Act? The answer lies in the counter-question: What then is investigative journalism all about?
It is true that one is not supposed to peep inside another’s bedroom. But if someone has heard a rattling noise emanating from someone’s bedroom, must not they then peep inside and raise an alarm?