Tata group chairman Ratan Tata has questioned the ‘indiscriminate disclosure’ of private conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and a host of others being justified under the right to free speech, saying the media cannot be used to fight corporate battles.
‘The right to freedom of expression cannot be a euphemism for waging surrogate corporate wars. All these issues of vital constitutional importance are sought to be raised’ in the petition and affidavit filed by Tata in the Supreme Court seeking to block the publication of telephone conversations between him and Radia as this violated his right to privacy.
‘The question arises as to whether indiscriminate disclosure of private conversation by a person alleged to be a lobbyist with a host of people (including media persons, other private persons, and corporate employees, her own employees etc) can be justified as an exercise of the right of free speech which outweighs the right to privacy,’ Tata said in his additional affidavit filed on Jan 7.
The affidavit has questioned the stand taken by the ‘respondents’ that media organizations were free to resort to fair or foul means to obtain the recorded conversations and publish them irrespective to fact whether they relates to a private matter or something that interests the public domain.
Stating that a free press was vital for the survival of democracy, Tata’s affidavit says: ‘However, as much the concern bestowed by the press upon the influence of corporates on governmental policy, it is also necessary to keep in view the potential influence of specific corporate investments in the press itself and their potential conflict – applying larger standards of apprehensions of bias.’
The affidavit further says that the assertion by the media of its right to publish the Radia tapes has to evaluated against the invasion of the right to privacy of the affected citizens.
‘The conversations allegedly between the petitioner and Ms. Radia are also such that their publication would equally be violative of the right of privacy as also the right of third parties against whom there are comments made,’ the affidavit maintains.
The affidavit says that ‘…even the comment, seemingly of public importance, may be a loose comment or gossip – which if made public, along with unfounded allegations, could seriously besmirch the reputation of a third party’.