Centre using agencies as coercive tools to curb press freedom: Editors Guild
The Editors Guild of India on Friday said it is worried that government agencies are being used as a "coercive tool" to suppress free and independent journalism.
Its remarks come after the Income Tax Department's raids on Thursday across several states against prominent media group Dainik Bhaskar as well as Uttar Pradesh-based TV channel Bharat Samachar for alleged tax evasion.
"The Editors Guild of India (EGI) is concerned about the income tax raids on July 22 at the offices of country's leading newspaper group Dainik Bhaskar as well as a Lucknow-based independent news channel Bharat Samachar," it said in a statement.
"They come against the backdrop of in-depth reporting on the (Covid-19) pandemic by Dainik Bhaskar, which brought to the fore the gross mismanagement by government authorities and the immense loss of human lives," the guild said.
It claimed that in a webinar hosted by it recently, Dainik Bhaskar's national editor Om Gaur had stated that their advertisements from government departments have been cut down after recent critical coverage of state authorities.
"He had also written an Op-Ed in the New York Times, headlined 'The Ganges is Returning the Dead. It Does Not Lie'," the EGI noted.
It said, "The EGI is therefore concerned that government agencies are being used as a coercive tool to suppress free and independent journalism. This is all the more disturbing given the recent media reports on the widespread surveillance of journalists and civil society activists using the Pegasus software."
On raids by the tax department on Bharat Samachar, the guild said that it is one of the few channels in Uttar Pradesh that has been asking difficult questions to the state government with respect to the pandemic's management.
"Notwithstanding the merits of the case, the timing of these raids is concerning given the recent critical coverage by both the organisations," the EGI said.
In February, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had conducted raids at the office of NewsClick.in, which had been at the forefront of reporting on the farmers agitation and the anti-CAA protests, it noted.
The raids against Dainik Bhaskar, which has a presence in 12 states and runs newspapers as well as operates radio stations, web portals and mobile phone apps, started around 5:30 am on Thursday and were going on till late in the evening. They were taking place in 30 locations in different states.
The premises of Bharat Samachar and its promoters and staffers were raided in Uttar Pradesh.