DIGIPUB News India Foundation, a body of digital-only news ventures and freelance journalists, has strongly condemned in no uncertain terms the searches against the editors and reporter of The Wire, which mainly serve the purpose of criminalising and creating a chilling effect against the profession of journalism in India.
The statement comes hours after the Delhi Police searched the residences of The Wire founder and prominent journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, the editor of news website, M K Venu and deputy editor Jahnavi Sen in connection with its reports that BJP IT cell’s Amit Malviya used his special privileges at Meta to take down over 700 social media posts.
The raids took place two days after an FIR was registered against them on charges of cheating, forgery, defamation and criminal conspiracy on the basis of a complaint filed by controversial Hindutva politician Malviya.
The city police also raided The Wire office and seized the electronic devices of journalists including laptops and mobile phones.
“A journalist or a media organisation that publishes a false report ought to be held
accountable by its peers and civil society. But for the police to carry out an immediate and
arbitrary search of the media house’s office and its editors’ homes, based entirely on a
private complaint of defamation filed by a spokesperson of the ruling party, smacks of mala fide intentions,” read the statement by DIGIPUB.
It said: “Moreover, the danger of these searches being used as an excuse to seize and duplicate confidential and sensitive data held by The Wire cannot be dismissed. While any fair investigation must follow the rule of law, it cannot become a tool to further worsen the already fraught state of journalism in India, which has steadily declined in global indices of media freedom and democracy. We have witnessed numerous recent instances where criminal prosecution and harassment by the police have intimidated and prevented journalists from doing their jobs.”
Malviya’s complaint relates to a series of articles about social media company Meta. The stories were subsequently retracted, by claiming that it had been deceived by a member of its investigative team. The Wire filed a complaint against researcher Devesh Kumar, who had worked on the Meta articles, claiming that he “fabricated and supplied documents, emails and other material such as videos with a view to damaging The Wire and its reputation.”