The two magazines which published the Niira Radia tapes today challenged the maintainability of the petition moved by Tata Sons Chairman Ratan Tata in the Supreme Court, arguing it was private interest litigation cloaked in the form of public interest litigation, raising issues of right to privacy.
Anil Divan, senior counsel of Outlook magazine, and Rajeev Dhawan, senior counsel of Open magazine, objected to the petition being heard by the Supreme Court, as it was the complaint of an individual. If anyone was hurt by the release of the tape recordings, there are other remedies for him in the civil courts. The Supreme Court is not the forum to agitate personal complaints, they said. The Constitution does not provide for it.
After hearing Tata’s counsel, Harish Salve, and the magazines, the case was adjourned till February 2, as the parties wanted time to respond to Salve and the government’s affidavit. The government has stated that Radia conversations were tapped because a complaint had been received by it alleging that the corporate consultant was a spy for foreign countries. It, thus, justified the tapping of the phone for state security.
The judges — Justice G S Singhvi and Justice A K Ganguly — wanted to know the contents of the complaint. Attorney General G E Vahanvati said it contained names of persons and other personal details. The judges then asked him to hand it over in a sealed cover at the next hearing. The names will not be disclosed till the case is finally disposed.
Salve submitted that some people who wanted to humour friends or to show off their connections bluffed on the phone. But if such recordings were aired, third persons who are maligned behind their backs would be affected.
The Tata counsel brought a colour chart trying to show the extent of corporate control over certain media organisations like Outlook, IBN and TV Today. He submitted that there should be some balance between the interests of the media and the industrial houses. The opposite counsel objected to reading out the financial background of the media organisations without giving them the statement.
The Open magazine counsel stated that all over the world, media organisations are backed by financially sound organisations. The only exception, according to him, was Guardian of London and the defunct National Herald. There was nothing wrong in getting funds if the independence of the media organisations was kept intact.