The Editors Guild of India on Saturday expressed concerns about the “survey operations” carried out by Income Tax department officials at the offices of digital news platforms Newslaundry and Newsclick in Delhi.
The dangerous trend of government agencies harassing and intimidating independent media undermines constitutional democracy, according to Editord Guild.
On Friday, IT officials visited the offices of the two organisations and conducted investigations through the day. The operation aimed to verify tax payment details and remittances made by the organisations, according to IT officials.
The journalist body said that as per the statement of Newslaundry co-founder Abhinandan Sekhri, the surveys were “a clear intimidatory and blatant attack on their rights, and therefore press freedom.”
“The 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,” reads the statement.
Here is the full text of Editors Guild’s statement:
September 11, 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 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 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