The Editors Guild of India on Thursday condemned the remarks made by Attorney General KK Venugopal in the Supreme Court about the sources of recent media coverage of the Rafale deal. The Guild said that any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act against journalists would be reprehensible.

Venugopal, representing the Centre, had told the court on Wednesday that petitions seeking an inquiry into the India-France fighter jet deal were based on documents “stolen” from the Defence Ministry. He had accused news outlets that put them out in public – The Hindu newspaper and ANI news agency – of offences under the Official Secrets Act.

“Although the Attorney General later clarified that the investigation and contemplated action would not be initiated against journalists or lawyers who used these documents, the Guild is perturbed over such threats,” the Editors Guild said. “These will intimidate the media in general and curb its freedom to report and comment on the Rafale deal in particular.”

The Guild said asking journalists to disclose their sources was also reprehensible.

“The Guild denounces these threats and urges the government to refrain from initiating any action that might undermine the media’s freedom and independence,” the statement said.

In December 2018, the Supreme Court had dismissed the need for an inquiry into the Rafale deal, but reports by The Hindu since then have raised new allegations about the role of the Prime Minister’s Office. During the hearing of petitions seeking a review of that verdict on Wednesday, Venugopal said the Centre was considering action against two publications that published confidential documents.

N Ram, the chairperson of The Hindu Publishing Group, said on Wednesday that the newspaper is committed to protecting the sources from whom it had obtained documents about the Rafale fighter jet deal between India and France. He added that the documents and his articles based on them speak for themselves.