'Survey' or media hunting?text_fields
Official 'surveys' of the offices of two media entities in Delhi has raised concerns in the media world, a concern which was shared by Editors Guild of India (EGI). The concern arose because the action was patently more than an official action, and part of a move to bring to line the media who criticise the government. The raids were conducted over the last few days on online media entities, NewsClick and Newslaundry. In the cae of Newslaundry, Income Tax (IT) officials conducted 'survey' (claimed to be not a raid!) started early afternoon and lasted till midnight. In the case of NewsClick, Chief Editor Prabir Purkayastha's house was searched by Enforcement (ED) officials which lasted 114 hours. Even earlier ED/IT officials had conducted raids in these premises and they were avowedly for inquiring into economic irregularities which both firms deny. Further, as EGI pointed out, reports tell that documents were scrutinised and confiscated over and above what rules under Section 135A of IT Act allow in a 'survey'. While the law says that copies should be taken of only those data that are related to the scope of enquiry , documents including the personal files and emails of Newslaundry co-founder Abhinandan Sekhri were leaked. Thus full copies were made of his laptop and mobile phone. It is being pointed out that it is against rules to extract data about the sources of news reporting and private data.
There are reasons to believe that the increase in legal action against media institutions is driven by an urge to silence free media. For all the media firms subjected to such action are those that draw public attention to the government's failings and wrongs. A look at which media were victim to such actions since 2014 would illustrate the point. NDTV, Caravan and The Wire are examples. Such organisations are booked in cases ranging from sedition to economic offences, as occasions suit authorities. There are cases in five different states against Caravan's publisher, editor and others. Not only are cases becoming routine against mediapersons, but online threats also are becoming common. Last year, four journalists of Caravan alone were manhandled, during which 67 journalists were arrested and 200 attacked, as pointed out by 'Free Speech Collective'. Numerous women journalists who had been exposing government faults with evidence, including Neha Dixit, Supriya Sharma, Rachna Khaira and Rana Ayyub are subjected to cyber bullying. The other day economic offence was also charged against Rana. And Geetu Seshu of 'Free Speech Collective' is also being targeted for speaking about the conditions in Jammu-Kashmir. The message emerging from all this is that no one should speak against the government, government supporters or pro-government corporates. The 'fault' of eight journalists who reported the farmers' agitation is that the news they reported contained the allegation that the cause of death of a farmer was other than what the police had stated. And it was on his way to Hathras to report the death by torture of a Dalit girl that Siddique Kappen was arrested. Instances like this abound.
In parallel to official witch-hunting, there is also a situation where there is no action in the case of attacks against journalists. It is two and a half years now since the Supreme Court lamented the slow pace of inquiry into the murder of journalists including Gauri Lankesh. In February this year, there was a call on YouTube for hanging the journalists of digital media collective 'Digipub'. But that attracted no action. The United Nations is observing November 2 as a special day with a declaration that there should be no impunity in attacks against journalists. But unfortunately in our country, what gets protection is attacks. A union minister floated a derogatory epithet 'presstitute'; the Press Council turns silent on many occasions. Recently, when Supreme Court Justice Chandrachud called on journalists to expose the lies of government, the question mediapersons asked in response was who would venture that if the reward for doing so would be raids by IT and ED. A journalist in Andaman, Zubair Ahmed, who tweeted about the flaws in Covid prevention, was booked and it took months before Calcutta High Court released him. And it was sedition charge that awaited Dhaval Patel who had provided a news item saying the Vijay Rupani would be removed from chief ministership of Gujarat. But today he stands vindicated when that news has become reality. In a country where it takes quite long to prove one's innocence, framed charge itself becomes a punishment through the legal process. And that is what is intended of them. But ultimately it is freedom and democracy that get endangered.