The Editors Guild of India issued the following statement on 11 September 2021. This is in addition to its recent statements on the Pegasus hack of Indian journalists and citizens, the income tax visits to Bharat Samachar and Dainik Bhaskar and the unreasonable and illegal, continued denial of bail to journalist Siddique Kappan by the Uttar Pradesh government in spite of orders to the contrary by various courts at various levels. The statement of 10 September 2021 –
The Editors Guild of India is deeply disturbed about the Income Tax “surveys” at the offices of news websites NewsClick.in and Newslaundry.com.
On September 10, 2021, teams of IT officials visited the offices of the two organisations and conducted investigations through the day. While they were officially labelled as “surveys” by the IT officials, but as per the statement issued by Abhinandan Sekhri, co-founder of Newslaundry, this was a clear intimidatory and blatant attack on their rights, and therefore press freedom.
It is learnt that the IT team made clones of Sekhri’s mobile and laptop, as well as some other office machines, and no hash value was given to them. This is clearly beyond the mandate of surveys as defined under section 133A of the Income Tax Act, which only allows data pertaining to the investigation to be copied, and certainly not personal and professional data of journalists. It is also in violation of procedures laid out in the Information Technology Act, 2000.
The Editors Guild is deeply concerned that such indiscriminate seizure of journalists’ data, which could include sensitive information such as details of sources, stories under works and other journalistic data, is in violation of free speech and freedom of press.
This was the second visit by an Income Tax team at the office of Newslaundry, the earlier one being in June. In case of NewsClick, the Enforcement Directorate had conducted raids at their office as well as homes of their senior journalists and officials in February 2021. Both NewsClick and Newslaundry have been critical of policies and functioning of the Union Government.
The dangerous trend of government agencies harassing and intimidating independent media must stop as it undermines our constitutional democracy. In July 2021, Income Tax raids were conducted at the offices of country’s leading newspaper Dainik Bhaskar, as well as a Lucknow based news channel, Bharat Samachar. These raids were conducted against the backdrop of some very critical coverage by both the news organisations on government’s handling of the pandemic.
The Editors Guild demands that great care and sensitivity be shown in all such investigations so as to not undermine the rights of journalists and media organisations. Further, to ensure that such investigations are conducted within the prescribed rules and that they don’t degenerate into instruments of harassment to intimidate independent media.
Thanks and regards,
Seema Mustafa, President
Sanjay Kapoor, General Secretary
Anant Nath, Treasurer