Nothing to hide, says NewsClick, calls the selective leaks part of a smear campaign

Published : February 13, 2021 11:52 IST

For more than 80 hours, the Enforcement Directorate has continued with its raids on the house of NewsClick Editor- in-Chief Prabir Purkayastha, virtually detaining him and author Githa Hariharan in their home. At the time of this writing, the raids that began on February 9 were still on. A statement issued by the editorial team of NewsClick pointed out that earlier the office had been raided for 36 hours and “some equipment vital to our functioning as a news organisation was seized”. Communication devices of directors and senior management were seized which had “limited their capacity to return to work” and to respond to the queries of the media. “Despite this harassment, NewsClick has cooperated fully with the authorities and will continue to do so. We have nothing to hide as we have operated completely in accordance with the law,” stated the note from the editorial team.

NewsClick said it was “disturbed to note reports in various media outlets based on information allegedly provided by senior officials of the Enforcement Directorate”. The selective leaks, it said, was a “malicious attempt to smear the image of NewsClick and discredit our journalism. It also constitutes a violation of the legal and investigative process.” In an earlier editorial statement, NewsClick had pointed out that the raids appeared to be a “part of a trend of deploying government agencies against those who refuse to toe the government’s line”. Several journalist organisations such as the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, the Indian Women’s Press Corps, the Delhi Union of Journalists and the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists, issued statements of support to NewsClick and criticised the increasing tendency, of late, by government agencies to intimidate the media in myriad forms. Very recently, five journalists and a Congress MP against whom FIRs for sedition were registered got a reprieve after the Supreme Court gave a stay on their arrests.

Misinformation campaign

On February 12, a leading national daily published a report, based on information allegedly sourced from the Enforcement Directorate, that had some details of foreign remittances that were allegedly sent to NewsClick. The illegality of those remittances, however, was not established in the report. Even as NewsClick has been constrained from functioning and bringing out routine news reports and analysis as it did until the raids began on February 9, it has had to face all kinds of speculation bordering on calumny.

An online news portal with strong ideological sympathies with the ruling government seemed to be privy to information with the E.D. and brought out two reports quoting unnamed sources as saying that the E.D. had found “several incriminating documents and suspicious financial transactions”. One of the so-called revelations was about charges that NewsClick claimed for maintenance even though “a ninth class pass electrician” had been hired for maintenance. Whether the E.D. had a problem with NewsClick hiring a 9th class pass for maintenance work or whether that by itself construed inappropriate or illegal activity was difficult to comprehend.

More interestingly, this news portal detailed the connections of Prabir Purkayastha with the Left, namely the Communist Party of India, which again was as far-fetched as they come. The same reports alleged Purkayastha’s “decades old association” with Gautam Navlakha, one of those arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon incident. Interestingly, the report in the national daily did not refer to the “Left” or Gautam Navlakha connections. The “sources” within the ED were apparently leaking out information in tranches to select people in the media, with the objective of influencing opinion, mostly negative, about NewsClick.

Editors Guild meeting disrupted

Meanwhile, on two separate events held on February 12, one by the Editors Guild of India and the other by Dhanak for Humanity, a non-government organisation, cyber attackers logged in and disrupted the on line zoom meetings repeatedly. “Multiple encroachers posted obscene messages and videos. The meeting had to be called off in ten minutes,” stated a tweet from the Editors Guild. The Editors Guild meeting, “Unheard Voices: Reporting from Conflict zones”, was part of a series of meetings on the challenges of reporting from conflict areas. The organisation has called for a probe in the matter. The one organised by Dhanak for Humanity was a media interaction with inter-faith married couples, some of whom were in safe houses. The media event was meant to give these couples a platform to share their problems as a result of the illegal campaign of ‘Love Jihad’ and the new ordinances in several States, especially those ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The meeting was disrupted twice by miscreants who abused the organisers and threatened to kill the couples. The online disruption of the Dhanak event was experienced firsthand by this correspondent who was logged in as part of the media interaction. Despite the vicious threats, the meeting continued until the end after the organisers blocked the cyber attackers.

The tendency to use cyber space to disrupt and heckle organisations and individuals who speak of and stand for democratic rights, constitutional and liberal values has gone up in recent times. Such attacks are done with utmost precision by anonymous individuals who log in with fictitious identities, with the sole objective of pushing forward a political thought process that represents the views of conservative and regressive right-wing sections.

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