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Home / Politics / News /  Radia tapes under cloud as SC hears Ratan Tata’s plea

New Delhi: The authenticity of the leaked phone taps involving corporate lobbyist Niira Radia came under a cloud on Tuesday after a government report seemed to indicate to the Supreme Court that they might have been tampered with.

The development took place during the final hearing of Ratan Tata’s privacy petition, which seeks that no further publication of his conversations with Radia be allowed. Radia was a lobbyist for the Tata group and Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Ltd.

Corporate lobbyist Niira Radia. PTI

During the hearing, justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadyay were given an investigation report in a sealed cover on the I-T department’s tapping of Radia’s phones and the subsequent leak of the conversations. After reading the report, which was not made public, the judges observed that the unique number associated with each call recording and the start and end times of some conversations were not matching with what was published on Outlook magazine’s website and the internal records of the I-T department.

“There is tampering with the recording," justice Singhvi said as he looked up from his perusal of the confidential report.

“Splice (sic) has been added," said justice Mukhopadhyay.

However, the bench then explained that “some files on the Outlook website appear to be sourced from elsewhere".

This led a discussion about the leak’s source, which hasn’t been identified despite the government investigation. The report appears to suggest that a private telecom operator may be responsible for the leaks.

“Media is entitled to have different sources," observed the court but the doubt over the authenticity of the tapes led to a discussion on the propriety of publishing such material. “When the media is about to publish material that could tarnish the reputation of somebody, the media is bound to verify the facts," said the court.

None of the people whose conversations were published, including Radia herself, has ever questioned the authenticity of the tapes, except Vir Sanghvi, former editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times and a columnist.

Barkha Dutt, NDTV’s group editor, raised the question of her right to respond to the magazines before they published her conversations with Radia.

“How will media groups that ran slanderous stories minus even right of reply to me & others react to proof of tampering," she asked on Twitter.

Additional solicitor general Indira Jaising told the court that the freedom of the press to publish such material was a connected issue in the case, on which the magazines were both claiming “(journalistic) privilege" and the “right to silence".

“We could ask them directly where they got it from," Jaising suggested to the court.

Tata’s lawyer Mukul Rohatgi asked whether people like his client, who are well known yet private individuals, shouldn’t enjoy the right to privacy. “Does it mean that a public figure has no private life?" asked Rohatgi.

In response, the court asked if a conversation to corrupt a public official couldn’t be considered a public interest matter.

nikhil.k@livemint.com

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