• The FIR is unfair, unjustified and a direct attack on the freedom of the press, said the Editors Guild
  • It is clearly meant to browbeat a journalist whose investigation on the matter was of great public interest, the statement said

File photo used for representational purpose

UIDAI case: Media bodies slam ‘attack on freedom of press'

NEW DELHI: The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)’s lodging of an FIR naming the Tribune+ in which news about the breach in the system was printed, and also the reporter who had filed the story, drew strong reactions from journalists’ bodies, which condemned it as an “attack on the freedom of the press”.

A statement issued by the Editors Guild said, “The Guild condemns UIDAI’s action to have the Tribune reporter booked by the police as it is clearly meant to browbeat a journalist whose investigation on the matter was of great public interest. It is unfair, unjustified and a direct attack on the freedom of the press.”

The statement, which gives details of the charges under which the reporter, Rachna Khaira, was booked – IPC sections 419 (punishment for cheating under impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery), 471 (using a forged document) and under sections of the IT Act and the Aadhar Act – asks the union ministry to withdraw the cases against her, and “conduct an impartial investigation into the matter.”

The Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps and Press Association too strongly objected and condemned the FIR registration. “Rather than addressing the loopholes which would actually ensure safety and security of the data and allay the general concerns about this, the UIDAI has chosen to persecute those whose actions appear to have been only in public interest,” read a statement issued by the journalists bodies collectively.

Criticising the FIR as “intimidatory, obstructionist and inimical to the pursuit of free, fair and independent journalism”, the statement asked for a withdrawal of the complaint against the reporter. A statement by the Foundation for Media Professionals, while referring to the FIR as an “assault on free speech”, said, “By allowing such FIRs to be registered, the government is clearly signalling that the functioning of UIDAI, however controversial, is out of bounds for journalists and other whistle-blowers.”

 By The Network of Women in Media in India

The Network of Women in Media, India, is appalled that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has reportedly lodged a police complaint against Rachna Khaira, a journalist at The Tribune, over her report on the vulnerability of Aadhaar data.

The story, ‘Rs 500, 10 minutes and you have access to billion aadhaar details‘ and the follow-up, ‘Aadhaar whistleblower who first called uidai’, published on January 3, 2017, had described how it was possible to buy access to personal information about citizens stored in the Aadhaar database for as little as Rs. 500. On January 4, based on a complaint by UIDAI, a first information report (FIR) was filed against Khaira for alleged offences, including cheating and forgery.

The UIDAI appears to lack basic understanding of how journalism works.

Khaira’s report conclusively demonstrates fundamental flaws in the way the Aadhaar programme has been structured. This is public interest journalism. The UIDAI should be welcoming and acting on reports like Khaira’s, not stifling them.

The UIDAI action raises concerns about whether it is meant to intimidate journalists and deter them from reporting freely on the Aadhaar programme. This is a blatant attack on the freedom of the press, as well as the public’s right to information. Other journalists and civil society groups who have revealed failings in the Aadhaar programme have been targeted as well. This must stop.

We also condemn the charges that have been brought against whistleblowers Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar, and Raj, all of whom were mentioned in Rachna’s report. Such punitive action against sources and whistleblowers is completely unacceptable.

As a public authority, the UIDAI is answerable to the public. If there are weaknesses in the system, they need to be fixed. Shooting the messenger is not the responsible or accountable way forward. The media will not be cowed down by these legal browbeating tactics.

The NWMI calls upon the UIDAI to immediately withdraw the complaint against Rachna Khaira and her sources.  Instead, it must direct its action against those who have compromised the security of the Aadhaar database.