Chennai: The documents pertaining to the purchase of Rafale fighter jets based on which articles were published in The Hindu were not stolen and the sources which provided them will not be revealed, said N. Ram, Chairman of The Hindu Group of Publications.
Contrasting the days when he wrote extensively on the kickbacks paid in the Bofors gun deal, Ram said no threats were then made to him or to The Hindu like invoking the Official Secrets Act as it was being done by the Modi government.
On Wednesday, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the Rafale deal documents were stolen from the government and those publishing them were guilty under the Official Secrets Act.
Speaking to IANS on Thursday, Ram said the bogey of stolen documents were raised during WiKi leaks, Pentagon Papers and other issues as well.
On the central government’s stand that the documents pertaining to Rafale fighter jet deal were stolen, the veteran journalist said: “We don’t have stolen documents. We will not reveal our source as we have given our word (to our sources).”
Ram said the information was published in public interest as part of investigative journalism as it was suppressed despite repeated demands made inside and outside Parliament.
According to him, the government saying the documents were stolen authenticated their genuineness.
Ram said there was protection available under Article 19 (1) A of the Constitution, the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as also under Sections 8(1) (i) and 8(2) of the Right to Information Act that overrides the Official Secrets Act.
According to him, the India specific enhancements in the Rafale fighter planes were not published as they were not relevant for investigative journalism.
Asked if the data he had put out were part of the papers submitted to the Supreme Court by the central government, Ram said: “We don’t know what the central government gave to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover. I feel what we have published may not be part of the documents shared with the Supreme Court by the central government.”
Ram said the Official Secrets Act had outlived its necessity and must be scrapped.
He said there was no threat from the central government after his first report on Rafale deal some time ago.
On the impact of central government advertisement revenues to The Hindu after he started writing about the Rafale deal, Ram said: “We are getting the advertisements. Initially our access to DAVP (Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity) was blocked after a couple of reports.”
When the Hindu exposed the kickbacks allegedly given in the Bofors artillery deal, Ram said, “there was no threat to The Hindu and to me.
“Our investigation into the purchase of Swedish gun Bofors started after the Swedish Radio put out news about commissions paid as part of the deal. We carried out our investigations for over two years and we got the first set of documents in 1988,” Ram recalled.
Ram said the then Congress government did not make threats to invoke the Official Secrets Act.
“I had a meeting with Rajiv Gandhi when we were carrying reports about the Bofors deal. It was a friendly meeting. We also talked about Sri Lanka.
“Even at the swearing in ceremony of V.P. Singh as the Prime Minister, I had met Rajiv Gandhi who was friendly. He acted like a co-host offering tea.”
Ram was critical of newspapers when it came to reporting about the Rafale deal.
“During the Bofors investigation days, the competition was severe, with Arun Shourie writing in the Indian Express and India Today also carried articles about Bofors deal.
“But now big newspapers are not doing what is expected of them in the Rafale deal,” Ram added. “Further television channels are carrying out propaganda for the government.
“There is a huge difference between the two periods – Bofors period and Rafale period. At that time investigative journalism was on the upswing,” Ram said.