Journalist associations have expressed concern over the Delhi Police’s searches and seizures conducted at the offices of news portal The Wire and at the homes of its editors in the National Capital on 31 October in connection with a series of now-retracted reports.
While the Editors Guild said the action was “excessive and disproportionate”, a collective of journalist groups said it “smacked of vendetta”.
The Delhi Police action came on a complaint filed by BJP leader Amit Malviya against The Wire over a series of reports in the publication related to social media giant Meta with references to the politician. The Wire’s retraction came after “certain discrepancies” emerged in the reports.
“The haste with which the police searches were carried out at multiple locations, is excessive and disproportionate, and in the manner of a fishing and roving enquiry,” the Guild said in a statement.
As per a statement published by The Wire, the police personnel seized phones, computers, and iPads from homes of the journalists, as well as from the office, and no hash value of the digital devices was given in spite of requests made by them, the Guild said.
“This is a serious violation of procedures and rules of investigation. Moreover, digital devices of editors and journalists would have sensitive information pertaining to journalistic sources and stories under work, the confidentiality of which can be seriously compromised in such seizures,” the Guild said.
The Guild said The Wire had already admitted to serious lapses in their reporting on the stories pertaining to Meta and Malviya. “These lapses are condemnable and the reports based on wrong information have since been withdrawn by The Wire,” it said.
In a separate joint statement, the Press Club of India, Press Association, Delhi Union of Journalists, Working News Cameraman Association, Indian Journalist Union, Digipub News India Foundation and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists said the complaints were filed even after the Wire issued an apology to its readers, with a promise that rigor in editorial processes involving technical evidence would be followed henceforth.
“It is surprising that even after the news portal issued a detailed retraction for its editorial lapses, putting out the same in the public domain, the Delhi police based on the complaint of the BJP leader which includes a bevy of charges, including criminal clauses under the IPC, registered an FIR and chose to proceed investigating the matter with uncharacteristic promptness.
Digipub said the searches mainly serve the purpose of criminalising and creating a chilling effect against the profession of journalism in India.
Apart from digital media outlets, the raids were covered by many mainstream newspaper houses and their digital wings.
The raids were carried out at the homes of The Wire’s founders Siddharth Vardarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and M K Venu, and deputy political editor Jahnavi Sen.
Amit Malviya, who is the BJP’s IT cell head, lodged a complaint against The Wire and the editors for the “retracted” reports that said that he allegedly used his special privileges at Meta to take down social media posts.
Retracting the “false” reports, The Wire had said, “lapses in editorial lapses in editorial oversight are also being reviewed, as are editorial roles, so that failsafe protocols are put in place ensuring the accuracy of all source-based reporting.”
“Our investigation, which is ongoing, does not as yet allow us to take a conclusive view about the authenticity and bona fides of the sources with whom a member of our reporting team says he has been in touch over an extended period of time,” The Wire had said.
The Delhi Police had booked Vardarajan and the others under IPC Sections 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery with the purpose of cheating), 469 (forgery for harming reputation), 471 (using forged document), 500 (defamation), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention).