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INTERVIEW: Rajeev Dhawan
'POTO will abuse a journalist's pride and professionalism' 

Eminent lawyer Rajeev Dhawan tells Aman Singh of that the new Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) is both abusive and dictatorial in its attempt to muzzle the press. He says that the press is being threatened in a way that might lead to extreme reactions and absolutist behaviour
Is POTO violating the Constitutional guarantee of the right to freedom of expression?
The question of Constitutionality and desirability are different. If an Act is Constitutionally correct, it doesn't mean that it is as desirable, too. Even the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Justice Jeevan Reddy in the 73rd report had said that what might be Constitutionally acceptable is not necessarily equally desirable. The Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) had skimmed over this, too. So that is the fine line that divides the freedom of expression, the Constitution and the government's (new) ordinance.

What are the press laws that are being infringed by the POTO?
It is not only infringing but also violating the disclosure provision, the confession provision and the bail provision. It is infringing blatantly on the forfeiture provision. The most important fact is that if they (the government) simply wanted to term terrorism as an offence, they could have done so by making it or adding it as an offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Why are they getting into all this at all when this process could have solved the basic motive?
Violence is a procedure and labelling it an offence should be the remedy. Not indicting journalists.
Given that a journalist is basically doing his or her job, how necessary do you think is it to disclose the source of information?
The basic point is that when the motive can be solved by simply adding terrorism to the IPC, why is the Central government taking such extreme steps? An ordinary law would have done, as against all these special Acts. It's wrong to expect every journalist writing a story to give the source of information alongside and prove that what he or she is saying is true. They anyway authenticate their stories through the various available mediums. Why should they have to answer to the authorities on this issue at all? I think it is wrong, abusive and draconian.
I feel that professionals would feel abused by this Act as their stories are based on the belief that whatever they write is authentic and proven, not fabricated. It is also true that some of these people have sources that give them the information but do not want to be named. In such a case, the authorities would be abusing a journalist's pride and professionalism. No one should be forced to shell out their sources, as this would be blatant, dictatorial rule and abuse of a profession built on truth, reality and facts.

Do you think the government is going too far this time, with POTO coming as it does long after Feroze Gandhi's Working Journalists' Act?
That is a very broad question. I have already said that it is a draconian Act and feel that the profession of journalism would be highly abused by it if it is enacted and followed. I mean, going to jail for 10 years for not giving out the name of the source one's story is based on? Ridiculous.

How far is Arundhati Roy's claim violated by the POTO that we have the right to criticise judicial pronouncements?
I don't think it is violated at all. People can still criticise judicial decisions. But, yes, if this Ordinance becomes an Act, it would change the way they would be permitted to criticise. It would change radically, in fact. This would start resembling a dictatorship as far as freedom of press is concerned. I am not surprised that you journalists are up in the arms about this Act.



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