The right to know
Gautam Navlakha. — Counter currents
THE right to know took its time to arrive. It is not explicitly guaranteed in the Indian constitution. But the Indian Supreme Court has clarified this with regard to freedom of expression. You cannot exercise this last right with an empty mind. He must be enriched with knowledge if he is to express his mind meaningfully.
Last month it was reported that prison authorities had refused a request by human rights activist Gautam Navlakha to read a book by PG Wodehouse as a ‘security risk’. Whether humor had been banned from prison, the Bombay High Court wondered as it heard Navlakha’s plea for house arrest, instead of jail time.
India has a long history of prison literature. Gandhi wrote My Experiences with Truth in Yerawada Prison in Pune, while The Discovery of India was the result of Nehru’s time in Ahmednagar Prison. Political leader Jayaprakash Narayan wrote the prison diary during the emergency.
The Editors Guild of India is concerned about new central media accreditation guidelines that have been issued by the Press Information Bureau, which is responsible for granting accreditation to media representatives to facilitate access to official information.
According to a statement she released, the guidelines contain new provisions for revoking accreditation. Many of these provisions would be arbitrary.
The statement from the Editors Guild of India states: “For example, accreditation may be revoked if a journalist is ‘charged with a serious offence’ or if a journalist ‘acts in a manner that undermines the sovereignty and to the integrity of India”. , State security, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, morality or good morals or in matters of contempt of court, defamation or incitement to crime”.
It was weird that just being charged was mentioned as a ground for cancellation. Other grounds for cancellation were obviously vague and subjective, especially since no procedure had been defined and no mention was made of the judging authority that would decide on the suspension.
“Worse still, the journalists concerned were not allowed to be heard. Most surprisingly, “defamation” was included as a ground for cancellation. A new clause requiring a police check was added without defining the contours of such a check. Since no standard has been prescribed, it can grant unlimited powers to the police to deny accreditation to journalists who may be considered government critics,” the Publishers Guild said.
It was clear, the Guild said, “that these vague, arbitrary and draconian clauses were included with the intention of restricting critical and investigative reporting on government affairs. There are also other restrictive provisions. In the case of freelance journalists, the requirements for the number of signatures have been made unreasonably high”.
He also pointed out that no consultation had taken place with relevant bodies such as the media prior to the introduction of the guidelines.
As Lord Simon said, “The public interest in freedom of discussion (of which freedom of the press is one aspect) derives from the requirement that members of a democratic society should be sufficiently informed to be able to intelligently influence decisions that may affect them.’
In 1975, the Supreme Court of India ruled: “In a government of accountability like ours, where all public officials must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have the right to know about any public act, anything that is done publicly by its public officials. They have the right to know the details of every public transaction in its full scope. The right to know, which stems from the notion of freedom of expression, although not absolute, is an element which should encourage mistrust, when secrecy is claimed for transactions which cannot, in any case, have no impact on public safety.
‘To cover with a veil, current affairs are not in the public interest. Such secrecy can rarely be legitimately desired. It is usually desired for parties and politics or the personal interest of bureaucratic routine. The responsibility of officials to explain and justify their actions is the main safeguard against oppression and corruption.
In 1965, the United States Supreme Court struck down a federal law that required a person wishing to receive “Communist political propaganda” from abroad to sign a reply card for the post office.
“It is true that the First Amendment to the US Constitution contains no specific guarantee of access to publications. However, the protection of the Bill of Rights goes beyond specific warranties to protect against Congressional abridgement of those equally fundamental personal rights necessary to make the express warranties meaningful. This concludes the problem.
Dawn.com, May 7. AG Noorani is a Mumbai-based author and lawyer.