Mahantesh, who runs the Kannada investigative news portal The File, exposed irregularities in multiple government departments over the years.
An investigative journalist in Karnataka has been asked by the Bengaluru police to reveal the identity of his source.
Mahantesh, the editor of the Kannada investigative journalism portal The File, has been served a notice under CrPC Section 91 (summons to produce documents).
In effect, the notice asks Mahantesh to reveal the identity of a source he used in an investigative report that exposed the government’s efforts to reinstate two officers accused in the teachers’ recruitment scam.
Speaking to South First, Mahantesh deemed the whole exercise an attempt to intimidate independent news outfits.
The File has reported extensively on several malpractices and irregularities across government departments.
On 10 November, 2022, The File reported on the Public Instructions Department’s intent to reinstate MP Madegowda and Gita S — two officials suspended following allegations of their involvement in the teachers’ recruitment scam for exams held in 2014-2015.
The two officials had been booked in connection with the case, and were out of bail.
The File quoted an internal departmental note with minutes of the meeting held on 13 October, 2022, to back its report.
The note cited that the director of the Public Instruction Department had given oral instructions to reinstate the tainted officials, who were under suspension since 26 September for their alleged involvement in the recruitment scam.
The File reported extensively on the scam, with at least five reports in the series exposing malpractice in the recruitment of teachers.
Following The File’s exposé, a cybercrime complaint was filed with the Bengaluru police by the Public Instructions Department alleging that internal office files had been illegally leaked.
The Bengaluru cybercrime police registered an FIR under Section 66 of the IT Act. Based on the FIR, the police issued a notice to Mahantesh on 5 January, asking him to reveal the source of his document.
The cops noted that office documents from the department had been broadcast on the portal.
“Hence, you are instructed to provide details of the person who gave the documents to you for the purpose of investigation,” the notice by Bengaluru police said.
The notice also sought details such as name, address, mobile number, and ID proof of Mahantesh’s source.
“The Public Instruction Department has filed a complaint that an employee illegally downloaded an e-office note and leaked it to the media. Since this media house carried that note, we issued a notice seeking details of the person who leaked it illegally. This is the due procedure,” DCP (Central) Srinvas R Gowda told South First.
“The e-office document notes a discussion held internally. Such discussions finally lead to a notification that can be accessed by the public, and will remain in the public domain, but the internal discussions leading to the notification are not open for public scrutiny, as per the complainant,” he added.
A defiant Mahantesh has since responded with a firm “No”.
Following consultation with advocates, the investigative journalist refused to part with the information that could reveal the identity of his source.
“Why should I reveal my source? Right from exposing the multi-crore scam in Covid-19 equipment procurement by the Karnataka government to malpractice and corruption in recruitments, The File has backed all its reports with documents accessed via RTI and sources,” he noted in a conversation with South First.
“It is obnoxious of the police to demand that a journalist reveal his source. This is nothing but intimidation tactics to shut down an independent website that is exposing corruption repeatedly,” he added.
Mahantesh also pointed out that reporting on an internal e-office note exposing the attempt by the department to reinstate tainted officials did not violate the Officials Secrets Act.
Senior police officers from the cybercrime department stated that the notice was “common procedure” and wasn’t meant to prosecute or intimidate anyone.
“We mention in the chargesheet that such a notice was issued to a person, but they declined to share information. The Karnataka Police Act empowers us to seek documents from anyone in connection with a case,” a senior official said.
(With inputs from Bellie Thomas)