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Public interest outweighs privacy concerns: Outlook

J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI: The public interest outweighs private interest and even assuming that there are some so-called private conversations in the Niira Radia tapes, their publication could not be challenged, Outlook magazine told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

In its response to the notice on industrialist Ratan Tata's petition questioning the publication of the tapes on the ground that his right to privacy had been violated, the magazine said: “There are no conversations that are strictly private or separate from the other conversations that have been reported.”

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly posted the matter to February 24 after senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Mr. Tata, sought time to file an additional affidavit. The court took on record the affidavits filed by Outlook and Open magazines.

Earlier, Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati produced in a sealed cover the original complaint on the basis of which income tax authorities tapped the conversations of the corporate lobbyist.

Vinod Panicker, authorised signatory of Outlook, in his affidavit said: “The recorded conversations that are [the] subject matter of the present proceedings evidently deal with matters of serious public interest and concern, since these conversations relate to matters of good governance, possible corruption in the highest echelons of government, and secret and baleful influences on centres of power. It is absolutely essential that such matters be open for public debate.”

The affidavit said Mr. Tata “is a public figure, being a captain of industry who controls influences and affects the fortunes of widely held public corporations, and who has by his own volition entered into public debate by writing open letters on the subject matter of 2G spectrum allocation to other public figures.”

‘No specific facts'

On his allegation that corporate houses owning media businesses were conducting surrogate corporate wars against companies in which he had an interest, the affidavit said: “The petitioner fails or deliberately omits to spell out any specific facts or connection or nexus between the media houses that have released the petitioner's conversation and the alleged corporate wars being waged against his companies.”

It said: “Ms. Radia was suspected of being involved in a criminal conspiracy which makes it in the highest public interest to disclose her activities and conversations. The petitioner has sought to block and gag the media by indirectly asking governmental authorities to do so, while saying that it is not his intention to block the publication of certain conversations.”

Contending that the “law does not permit imposing of prior restraint upon publication of matter which is the subject matter of this writ petition,” the affidavit sought the dismissal of Mr. Tata's petition.

‘Legitimate interest'

Open magazine publisher R. Rajmohan, in his affidavit, said: “The conversations published were in the context of a public debate regarding the role of lobbyists and their proximity to influential people, and therefore, the public had a legitimate interest in receiving information regarding the same.”

It said: “The publication of the conversations was only to show the influence commanded by lobbyists, and an integral part of establishing the said influence was to show their relationship with corporate entities among others which enhanced their influence.”

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