Pegasus Row: Freedom Of Press An Important Pillar Of Democracy, Says Supreme Court

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Freedom of the press is an ‘important pillar’ of democracy, Supreme Court says in Pegasus case

New Delhi:

Freedom of the press is an “important pillar” of democracy, the Supreme Court observed on Wednesday and declared that the court’s task in the Pegasus case was of great importance in view of the importance of protecting journalistic sources and the “potential crippling effect” that espionage techniques can have.

The Supreme Court, which appointed a three-member panel of experts to investigate the alleged use of Israeli spyware Pegasus for the surveillance of certain people in India, underlined the aspect relating to press freedom and s ‘is declared obliged to take up the cause of the case to determine the truth and to get to the bottom of the allegations made.

A bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana said it is undeniable that monitoring and knowing that a person is in danger of being spied on can affect how a person decides to exercise their rights.

“Such a scenario could lead to self-censorship. This is of particular concern when it comes to press freedom, which is an important pillar of democracy. Such a chilling effect on free speech is an attack on the vital public. watchdog role of the press, which can undermine the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information, ”said the judiciary, also made up of judges Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

In its 46-page plea package order calling for an independent investigation into Pegasus’ alleged espionage case, the highest court said protecting journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for freedom. press and without it, sources may be dissuaded from helping the media to educate the public on matters of public interest.

“In view of the importance of the protection of journalistic sources for press freedom in a democratic society and the potential deterrent effect that espionage techniques can have, the task of this tribunal in the present case, where some serious allegations of violation of the rights of the citizens of the country have been raised, of great importance, ”he said.

Referring to the Supreme Court ruling in January last year on pleas against restrictions imposed on Jammu and Kashmir after the Center’s repeal of the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special status to the old state, the judiciary said in the verdict that the court had underlined the importance of press freedom in a modern democracy.

“An important and necessary corollary of such a right is to ensure the protection of sources of information,” he said.

He initially said the court was not happy with the pleadings filed in that case, as they were entirely based only on certain newspaper articles.

The bench said the Supreme Court has generally attempted to discourage legal claims, especially public interest litigation, which are based entirely on newspaper articles without any further action taken by the petitioner.

“Although we understand that the allegations made in these petitions relate to matters on which ordinary citizens would not have information except for investigative reporting by news agencies, given the quality of some of petitions filed, we are forced to observe that individuals should not file half-prepared petitions just over a few newspaper articles, ”he said.

The Supreme Court has stated that such an exercise, far from helping the cause of an individual who files the plea, is often detrimental to the case itself.

“This is because the court will not have adequate assistance in the matter, the burden of determining even the preliminary facts being left to the court. It is for this reason that it triggers the successful filing of such petitions in the courts. , and more particularly before this court which must be the final jurisdictional body of the country, must be discouraged “, declared the magistracy.

He said this should not be interpreted to mean that news agencies do not enjoy the confidence of the courts, but to underline the role that each pillar of democracy occupies in the political system.

The bench said news agencies are reporting facts and highlighting issues that might otherwise not be known to the public and these could then become the basis for further action by an active and concerned civil society as well as for any subsequent deposit filed in court.

“But newspaper articles, by themselves, should not, in the ordinary course, be viewed as ready-made pleadings that can be brought before the courts,” he said.

The court later said that various other pleas had been filed in court, including by people allegedly victims of the alleged Pegasus spyware attack.

He said petitions subsequently filed and additional documents filed by others have recorded some documents that cannot be dismissed. “In addition, the sheer volume of cross-checked and verified reports from various reputable news organizations around the world as well as the reactions of foreign governments and legal institutions have also led us to consider this to be a case. where the jurisdiction of the court can be exercised, ”he said.

He noted that during arguments, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had suggested that many of these reports were “motivated and selfish”.

“However, such an omnibus oral claim is not sufficient to refrain from interference,” he said.

An international media consortium had reported that more than 300 verified Indian cell phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for alleged surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by DAILYNEWSCATCH staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)

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