After the Delhi Police Special Cell raided the houses of journalists associated with the news portal ‘Newsclick’ last Tuesday and the arrest of two people, ‘concerns about press freedom’ have resurfaced in India.
On Wednesday, Newsclick founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and HR department head Amit Chakraborty were sent to seven-day police custody. Both of them have been arrested under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
UAPA is an anti-terrorism law and it is very difficult to get bail if arrested under it.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Economic Offenses Wing of Delhi Police were already investigating allegations of money laundering against NewsClick. Newsclick editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha had obtained an interim stay from the court against action in these cases.
So it is also being discussed whether UAPA sections have been imposed against the journalists associated with NewsClick so that they cannot be easily released on bail after arrest?
Concern about UAPA
There is a stir in the Indian media world over the imposition of UAPA sections in the Newsclick case.
A senior journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “There should not have been such draconian laws like UAPA. These were laws that have been used by every government and some governments have used them more than others. Why is there a need for so many laws against our own citizens? We have enough laws in the country to deal with terrorists, extortionists, murderers, or enemies of the state. So why do you have to keep bringing draconian laws? ”
Many journalists say that when the UAPA law was brought, civil society was worried about it and journalists were writing against it.
“We knew that these laws could be used against innocent people. These laws are often used not on terrorists but on ordinary people because there are enough laws already in place to deal with terrorists. “Governments always act against their own people.”
According to a senior journalist, “All governments like to control the messenger. Some do it more brutally, some less brutally. But no government likes criticism or an independent media, even if they consider themselves democracies.” You say. The media has been strangled and it is allowing itself to be strangled. Both are things. If we don’t stand up and we don’t stand up, it will get worse. No matter who is in power. “It’s going to get worse.”
Senior journalist Jyoti Malhotra says that if the journalists are wrong and if the government feels that they have not reported any news properly, then the government should refute that news. “But detaining journalists under anti-terrorism laws is completely wrong.”
She says, “The Modi government wants to arrest and scare journalists. And we want to ask what is the reason that you are locking journalists under the anti-terrorism law. Have journalists now become terrorists in India? And if the government considers us terrorists then tell us what we have written that makes you think we have become terrorists.”
According to Jyoti Malhotra, the press cannot be treated like this.
She says, “On one hand you talk about emergency and always stand for press freedom, on the other hand you make such arrests.”
She says that one of the basic fundamental rights in the Constitution is freedom of expression and the citizens of India should associate with journalists. We should raise our voice and say that whatever is happening is wrong.
‘Trying to control the media’
According to reports, a total of 46 people associated with Newsclick were questioned at more than 50 places in Delhi-NCR and Mumbai and their digital devices were confiscated. Newsclick’s Delhi office has also been sealed.
It is being said that the police action taken on Tuesday was based on an FIR registered on August 17 based on ED’s input in which NewsClick was accused of receiving illegal money from China through the US.
There have been strong reactions from the Indian media world on the police action on NewsClick.
The Editors Guild of India issued a statement expressing concern and saying that “these raids are yet another attempt to rein in the media”.
The guild said, “While we recognize that if genuine crimes have been committed, the law must take its course but due process must be followed. Investigations into specific crimes should not be intimidated under the shadow of draconian laws, Nor should freedom of expression and raising dissent and critical voices be restricted.”
The Editors Guild also said that “We remind the government of the importance of independent media in a functioning democracy, and urge it to ensure that the fourth estate is respected, nurtured and protected”.
‘Journalists criticizing the government on target’
Similarly, the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) said in a statement that while the government has a record of selectively harassing journalists and media organizations, the “arbitrary and opaque manner in which the raids were conducted” on Tuesday was a serious blow to media freedom in India. Makes the situation serious.
The FMP said, “Implementation of a draconian UAPA in this regard will have a more chilling impact than ever before. Moreover, selectively targeting journalists and press organizations critical of the government reflects poorly on a country that is “the cradle of democracy.” Claims to be “mother.”
The FMP also said that the government is constitutionally and morally obliged to ensure that its actions do not create a climate of fear that prevents the media from speaking truth to power.
DigiPub News India Foundation said in its statement that this coordinated police action against news professionals and commentators clearly violates due process and fundamental rights.
DigiPub said, “This has taken the government’s arbitrary and intimidating behavior to a different level. India is sliding down in other rankings on freedom of the press and civil liberties and human rights and the Government of India against the media. “The war is a stain on the world’s largest democracy.”
Press freedom: India’s steadily declining reputation
According to the report released in May 2023 by global media monitoring organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index slipped to 161st out of 180 countries. In the year 2002, India was at 150th position in this list.
RSF had said in its report that all the mainstream media in India are now owned by rich businessmen close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The report said that “Modi has an army of supporters who monitor all online reporting critical of the government and launch a vicious harassment campaign against sources”. “Caught between these two forms of extreme pressure, many journalists are, in practice, forced to censor themselves,” the RSF report said.
Why were questions raised on the action?
Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai says that journalists are soft targets, especially those who come from small news portals. “They don’t have the protections that people in larger organizations have.”
During a discussion on India Today channel, Sardesai said that the Editors Guild of India statement clearly states that due process of law should be followed but the government should not introduce stringent laws to criminally intimidate journalists. Should not be used.
Sardesai said, “Nobody is saying that journalists are above the law. But at the same time you should also be clear that when you go and raid journalists and detain them, you are violating criminal laws like UAPA. Are not being used for any witch hunt.”
He said that if a witch hunt is being conducted then there could be dire consequences in the future.
According to Sardesai, “If junior employees working for NewsClick are being detained just because you believe that NewsClick is getting Chinese money, then it is setting a very dangerous precedent. This is absolutely Wrong message is being sent. And at a time when India is at the very bottom when it comes to press freedom index. There are some serious questions which the government will have to answer. If you want to follow the process of law, please do . But please do it on solid information that you have and put that information in the public domain.”
Rajdeep Sardesai said that the money laundering case against NewsClick is going on since 2021. “And now you are changing a PMLA into a more draconian and dangerous UAPA.”
Concerns over confiscation of digital devices
According to available information, the digital devices of all the 46 people associated with Newsclick who have been interrogated have been confiscated.
According to the Foundation for Media Professionals, it is troubling that journalists’ data and electronic devices were arbitrarily seized and they were not provided clone copies, hash values and other important information that would be necessary to ensure the integrity of the evidence and protect the rights of journalists. Are necessary for the safety of.
Last year, the Foundation for Media Professionals had approached the Supreme Court against scanning and confiscating the digital devices of journalists. He said that these devices contain personal data and confiscating them is against the right to privacy.
Digipub says the apex court has informed the Center about the petition seeking law and guidelines for search and seizure in accordance with fundamental rights. This matter is currently pending in the Supreme Court.
‘Free media is important for democracy’
In the last few years, after the raids by government agencies on media organizations like ‘Dainik Bhaskar’, ‘Newslaundry’, ‘The Kashmir Wala’ and ‘The Wire’, the question has been continuously raised whether democracy is being suppressed in India.
The recently formed India Alliance of opposition political parties says both the government and its ideologically affiliated organizations have resorted to retaliation against individual journalists who speak truth to power.
In a statement, the India alliance said, “The coercive actions of the BJP government are always only against those media organizations and journalists who speak truth to power. The irony is that when action is being taken against journalists who incite hatred and division in the country. When it comes to this, the BJP government becomes paralyzed.”
After the action on Newsclick on Tuesday, the Congress party said, “PM Modi is scared, nervous. Especially from those people who ask him questions on his failures, be they opposition leaders or journalists. Those who speak the truth will be tortured. Today again the raid on journalists is proof of this.
A senior journalist spoke to us on the condition of anonymity.
He said, “If we say that we are a democracy then a free media is a very important part of it. If you want to curb the freedom of the media, do not like criticism and constantly put the media in the dock then you should We also have to take a look at democracy and see whether it is working the way it should.”
According to this journalist, the media also has moral responsibilities and “we are neither showing our responsibilities nor are we getting the freedom we need”.
He said, “I feel that a section of the media in India is not working responsibly. And there is also a section of the media which is constantly being criticized. So we are a little confused.”