More than 700 eminent citizens have spoken out against the accusations levelled at online news portal NewsClick based on a report by The New York Times on the links that one of its investors has with China.
The statement of support on Wednesday came after journalist groups called the targeted attack on NewsClick a “witch-hunt" after a group of former public servants and others wrote to the President to ensure a crackdown on the website.
The statement says: “We, the undersigned, take strong exception to the spurious accusations levelled against the online news portal NewsClick and its founder and editor-in-chief, Prabir Purkayastha, based on claims published in a New York Times report. The NYT report does not allege any violation of law by NewsClick. The hounding of NewsClick is an attack on the freedom of expression enshrined in our Constitution.
“It is an attack on the conscientious role of independent journalism in a democracy to inform its readers about the government's failings and to hold the government accountable. It is an attack on the right of the people of this country to information that can enable them to fight against injustice… It is all the more unfortunate that a vicious media trial is being staged although investigation into the allegations brought against NewsClick are in court.”
The signatories include former Madras High Court judge Justice K. Chandru, actors Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak, academics Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik and Jean Dreze as well as editors of news outlets and activists.
The NYT report had earlier this month claimed that Shanghai-based American investor Neville Roy Singham “works closely with the Chinese government media machine and is financing its propaganda worldwide”.
The report said: “...The authorities in India raided a news organisation tied to Mr Singham during a crackdown on the press, accusing it of having ties to the Chinese government but offering no proof…. In New Delhi, corporate filings show, Mr Singham’s network financed a news site, NewsClick, that sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points.”
On August 7, the day Rahul Gandhi was reinstated as a member of the Lok Sabha, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had said in the House: “Rahul Gandhi’s nafrat ki dukaan (shop of hatred) has Chinese samaan (goods)… New York Times has published a very good report that says an institution like NewsClick has received Rs 38 crore.”
He also named the Purkayastha and other journalists.
In a news meet later that day, BJP ministers Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Anurag Thakur elaborated on the allegations by linking the Congress, Left and the AAP to NewsClick and China.
On the same day, Purkayastha issued a statement denying any undue influence on his publication by Chinese or other interests.