Fresh drive to bully media
Chandigarh/New Delhi: A move by the Aadhaar issuer to file a police complaint against The Tribune newspaper and one of its reporters over an exposé on how the cards' data were selling for Rs 500 has stirred fresh concerns that the official machinery is deploying intimidatory tactics to deter unfavourable media coverage.
Delhi police have drawn up an FIR against "unknown" persons on the complaint filed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the statutory body which issues the Aadhaar numbers and is attached to the Union ministry of electronics and information technology.
When UIDAI deputy director B.M. Patnaik went to the police, it was initially assumed that only the alleged racketeers had been named. Later, it emerged that the complaint names the Chandigarh-based newspaper and its reporter, Rachna Khaira, besides three others.
The FIR mentions charges such as cheating, forgery and violation of the IT and Aadhaar Acts. But Delhi police said on Sunday night that they had not been named as accused and they would be questioned.
The Tribune report was published at a time the Narendra Modi government has been linking all key services and welfare programmes to Aadhaar.
The Supreme Court is now looking into the scheme's constitutionality after privacy and data security fears were expressed.
The FIR has revived memories of the recent CBI search on NDTV and the defamation case against a news portal, The Wire, for its report on the business of BJP chief Amit Shah's son.
The Editors Guild of India, Press Club of India, Indian Women's Press Corps and the Press Association condemned the UIDAI action.
"It is clearly meant to browbeat a journalist whose investigation on the matter was of great public interest. It is unfair, unjustified and a direct attack on the freedom of the press," the guild said.
The UIDAI issued a statement justifying the complaint but denying that it amounted to shooting the messenger. "For the act of unauthorised access, criminal proceedings have been initiated," it said.
But the guild has cited how, after the report was published, the UIDAI had denied any data breach was possible.
The Tribune editor-in chief, Harish Khare, said the newspaper would explore all legal options "open to us to defend our freedom to undertake serious investigative journalism".