Are newspapers entitled to filing of application under the RTI Act?
Should a newspaper, if it is a corporate entity, be treated differently from another corporate body? Is an application filed by a newspaper catering to public need for information? Does granting information to a newspaper compromise with any other corporate entity’s competitive position? Are the journalists representatives of a corporate house? Should information be denied to them under the RTI Act as they have a commercial interest in publishing news? Many such questions came to the fore when the Karnataka Lokayukta denied information to journalists relying on section 3 of the RTI Act. Section 3 says that subject to the provisions of this Act, all citizens shall have the right to information.
In response to a recent RTI application filed by The Hindu, the Registrar of Karnataka Lokayukta has replied that corporate bodies and juristic persons cannot apply for information under the RTI Act. It was informed that if any person applies for information to a public authority as a representative of a corporate body, then the individual is not entitled to information under the Act.
One of the founders of the RTI movement, Aruna Roy, has termed the Lokayukta action an unfortunate use of a technical ambiguity to illegally deny the information sought. She quoted from the guidelines issued by the Department of Personnel and Training, to claim that applications by representatives of corporate entities are also to be treated as applications by citizens of India. The former Lokayukta Santosh N. Hegde said that accountability and transparency are the foundations of the institution of the Lokayukta. The media occupies a special place in Indian democracy and cannot be summarily dismissed as a group of corporate entities. Public interest is implicit in the practice of journalism.
In a division bench order of the Central Information Commission, denial of information to corporate entities was upheld under the RTI Act. In the case of Inder Grover v. Ministry of Railway in Appeal: No. CIC/OK/A/2006/00121 Dated, the 27th June, 2006, it was held that “it would have been in order if the CPIO had declined information under Section 3 of the Act as the Applicant had applied as the Managing Director of a company and not as citizen of India”.