Hamid for need to counter ”pseudo, strident nationalism”, relook at ”archaic” Official Secrets Act

By Naz Asghar

March 9, 2019

New Delhi: Former vice president Hamid Ansari on Saturday expressed grave concern over the increasing attempts to  undermine the freedom of the journalist to do their job, and called for a relook at the Official Secrets’ Act in the light of present day realities.

Like so many other laws still in existence, Official Secrets’ Act was ”the archaic and irrelevant in this age when the same thing is available in authentic form elsewhere. It is simply used when you want to make an example out of somebody,” Mr Ansari said.

He was answering a question on invocation of the Act in the context of an article by N Ram, Chairman of the Hindu group of publication, in which he quoted excerpts from documents relating to the purchase of Rafale fighters.The question came after Mr Ansari’s delivered the annual B G Verghese Memorial Lecture on ‘Journalism in times of strident nationalism’, organised by the Media Foundation.

Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal had recently stoked a controversy, when he told the Supreme Court that documents related to the Rafale fighter jet deal had been stolen from the Defence Ministry and indicated that investigations were under way to determine whether The Hindu’s publication of the documents was a crime, and a violation of the Official Secrets Act..

The former vice president  said that today there were so many things which were still classified and yet they were public knowledge, and published elsewhere, with the result that the country’s own scholars and the public were the losers.

Earlier in his lecture, he said it was unfortunate that despite the media’s impressive numbers and diversity, phenomena like cross-media ownership, paid news and fake news, as also the declining role of editors and their editorial freedom, do raise questions about its objectivity and credibility.

“Recent events have produced Indian versions of embedded journalism…It has led to what I would call news distorting nationalism of ratings hungry TV channels,” he said. “A part communal, part pseudo-nationalistic poison has seeped deep into the media’s collective thinking and poses a very real threat to Indian democracy. The casualty in the process is credibility.”

There was urgent need to guard against strident nationalism and contesting its ideological premises.

Underlining that violence against journalist was today matter of great concern he noted two aspect of this violence. The first by militant sections of public who wanted to prevent coverage of misdeeds, and the most recent example of which was the Gauri Lankesh case. The second kind of violence the journalists faced was from the authorities in the shape of local security forces who do not want the media to report strong-arm tactics used against public expressions of outrage in specific happenings.

”Correctives to the latter are few and rarely prompt, as in the Hashimpura killings case of 1986,” he said.

Earlier, the former vice president presented Priyanka Dubey, a bilingual journalist working with the BBC’s Delhi bureau, with the Chameli Devi Jain Award for an outstanding woman journalist for her work in exposing injustice with a sense of empathy, and holding authorities to account.

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Former vice president Hamid Ansari delivering the annual B G Verghese Memorial Lecture on organised by the Media Foundation at New Delhi on Saturday

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