Bengaluru Police Accused of Harassing News Portal in Push To Reveal Story Source

'The File' founder G. Mahantesh termed the police notice as harassment, and said it is not good journalism to divulge sources.

New Delhi: Several news portals have denounced a notice issued by Bengaluru Police to G. Mahantesh, founder and editor of news portal The File, in connection with a case pertaining to an e-office file noting of the Education Department which the portal published, saying this was an attempt to harass a portal doing “bona-fide investigative Kannada journalism”.

It was on January 5 that Mahantesh was served the notice in connection with the alleged leak of the file noting on the basis of which the portal had done a story in November 2022 and whose image it had carried.

Acting on a First Information Report, registered on the complaint of a senior department official on November 10, the Bengaluru Cybercrime Police asked Mahantesh to reveal the source of the document on which the story was based. It asked for the identity, name, address and ID card of the source.

What appears to have perturbed the government officials is that the e-file noting pertained to the reinstatement of an accused in the teacher recruitment scam, M.P. Madegowda, as managing director of the Karnataka Text Book Society. Madegowda was arrested in the scam but subsequently released on bail.

The FIR, under Section 66 of Information Technology Act, 2000, was filed against unnamed persons for illegally accessing and leaking the document from the department’s e-office portal.

However, Mahantesh’s advocate, B.T. Venkatesh, who had responded to the notice, was quoted by The Hindu as saying that the document pertained to “public affairs” and could have been obtained through a Right to Information application. As, such, he had argued that the news portal was within its rights and duty bound to protect the interests of the source. “We have asked whether the document could be defined as an official secret under the Official Secrets Act, 1923,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mahantesh described the case which led to police action as a “new threat to journalists”. He insisted that “as more and more departments are becoming paperless, any leak of a document — the source of most journalism — is being criminalised by misusing cybercrime laws.”

On the reasons behind the case, Mahantesh said, “This is being done in an attempt to threaten whistle-blower officers inside the system and harass journalists at the same time. Earlier, leak of only those documents that fit the definition of an official secret could be criminalised.”

Meanwhile, another portal, Hate Detector in a tweet quoted Mahantesh as saying with respect to being asked to reveal his source that, :it is not the ethics of journalism to divulge the name and details of a source who gives information about a scam, illegality, malpractice, maladministration”.

Reacting to the development, another investigative journalist and member of The Reporters’ Collective, Nitin Sethi, tweeted: “Bengaluru police is acting illegally to harass a superb bona-fide investigative Kannada journalism portal in Karnataka @thefileindia run by @mahanth75. I stand by their excellent journalism. Please support.”