E.D. raids at office of online portal NewsClick even as Supreme Court stays arrest of six journalists and Shashi Tharoor in sedition case

Published : February 09, 2021 21:08 IST

Prabir Purkayastha, Editor-in-Chief, Newsclick. Photo: SANDEEP SAXENA

Enforcement Directorate raids office of online portal NewsClick and homes of staff even as Supreme Court stays arrest of six journalists and Shashi Tharoor in sedition case.

An early morning raid by a team of the Enforcement Directorate (E.D.) at the office of the popular news media portal NewsClick and at the home of Prabir Purkayastha, the founder and editor-in-chief, sent shock waves across the media fraternity. The raid, which began at 10 a.m., was seen as a continuum of the series of attacks on the media in recent times, especially on sections of the media that have been critical of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and have questioned the policies of the government consistently. The E.D. raid, therefore, was not viewed as anything out of the ordinary, given the fact that there have been a spate of incidents where journalists have been booked for sedition, under clauses of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and even the National Security Act for as much as tweeting information or posting news that has been critical of the government. In the recent past, similar raids had been conducted in the homes and offices of other news media organisations perceived to be critical of the government.

NewsClick issued a brief statement in which it said: “Truth shall prevail. We have full faith in the legal system.” A full statement would be released only after the process was over, it said. Talking to some reporters, NewsClick editor Pranjal, accompanied by two E.D. officials, said: “There has been an ongoing raid since morning. We were shown a notice. Right now our documents are being checked. We are cooperating and will continue to cooperate.”

Ironically, the raids on the NewsClick office and at the homes of its staff came on the day the Supreme Court stayed the arrest of Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor and six journalists for allegedly “misleading” tweets pertaining to events that occurred on January 26. Several FIRs were registered against Shashi Tharoor and the six journalists in several States, following which the accused persons approached the Supreme Court with a plea to quash them. The matter will come up in the court after two weeks. The arrests stand stayed until then.

News of the raids evoked strong reactions from the media fraternity. While several people took to Twitter to express their indignation, DIGIPUB News India Foundation, a platform of 11 online news portals, condemned the raids in unequivocal terms and praised NewsClick’s brand of journalism. In a statement, office bearers Dhanya Rajendran of The News Minute, Ritu Kapur of The Quint and Abhinandan Sekhkri of Newslaundry, said: “NewsClick has always upheld the highest standards of journalistic integrity and speaking truth to power. Its commendable journalistic work seeking to hold power accountable speaks for itself. The E.D. raids is a clear attempt to suppress journalism critical of the government and its allies. Such use of state agencies to intimidate journalists and to suppress adversarial journalism is detrimental not only to the freedom of the press but also to the very idea of democratic accountability. Everyone emerges poorer in the long run. We demand that the government stop the E.D. action against NewsClick forthwith and make clear why the news organisation was raided to begin with. A free press so integral to the preservation of democracy can’t survive if journalists aren’t allowed to carry their professional work without fear.”

The Delhi Union of Journalists also issued a strong statement condemning the raid, terming it “ominous”. It said: “Coming in the wake of the filing of sedition charges against several senior journalists last week and government moves to curb free speech on Twitter and YouTube, the raids are ominous.” The aim, it stated, was “clearly to intimidate and browbeat independent and critical voices that disagree with the government on contemporary issues”.

In recent years, the digital and online news platforms have proven to be a rich source of alternative news and views, aspects seldom visible in sections of the mainstream media. Many of them have also provided avenues of employment for journalists who have been laid off by mainstream media outlets. Given their varied and diverse content, these online news portals have been attracting a lot of readership and viewership. There have been moves afoot to regulate their content and also the funding, In November 2020, the government issued an order bringing online news platforms and entertainment content providers under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

On the other hand, several media organisations and individuals who have continued to use language and content demonising sections of society (as it happened in the Tablighi Jamaat case in the initial days of the lockdown) and more recently defaming the farmers’ agitation have hardly been acted against. Functionaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party, including a Minister who used incendiary language during the Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, have not been booked under any law for reasons best known to the law enforcement agencies. More recently, when international celebrities threw their weight behind the farmers’ protest, they were threatened with rape and violence. In January 2021 alone, there were multiple instances of journalists being picked up and cases registered against them across the country, ranging from Manipur to Kanpur. That there is a method behind the targeting of media organisations and individuals is perhaps not merely a coincidence anymore.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor