Dangerous trend of govt agencies intimidating independent media must stop: Editors Guild of India
Expressing concern over the Income Tax 'surveys' conducted at the offices of two news websites, the Editors Guild of India on Saturday criticised the move saying the "dangerous trend of government agencies harassing and intimidating" independent media must stop as it undermines the constitutional democracy.
On September 10, teams of IT officials visited the offices of NewsClick and Newslaundry and conducted investigations through the day, the body noted.
The Guild said it is deeply disturbed about the I-T 'surveys' at the offices of the two news websites.
"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," it said in an official statement.
While they were officially labelled as surveys by the I-T officials, according to the statement issued by Abhinandan Sekhri, co-founder of Newslaundry, this was a clear intermediately and latent attack on their rights and therefore press freedom, the EGI said.
"It is learnt that the I-T 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 service as defined under section 133 A of the income tax act which only allows data pertaining to the investigation to be copied, and certainly not personal and professional date of journalists. It is also in violation of procedures laid out in the Information Technology Act 2000," it said.
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 the office as well as homes of their senior journalists and officials in February.
"Both NewsClick and Newslaundry have been critical of policies and functioning of the union government," the EGI said.
"The dangerous trend of government agencies harassing and intimidating independent media must stop as it undermines our constitutional democracy," it said, adding that in July, income tax raids were conducted at the offices of the 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," the EGI said.