Claws out: Editorial on the raid on editors of The Wire
Responding to the Delhi Police’s search of and seizures at the residences of the editors of the news and opinion website, The Wire, the Editors Guild of India stated that the raid was excessive and disproportionate. The condemnation is not unwarranted. There is context to the police, an institution that has allegedly been weaponised by India’s ruling regime, being let loose on the organisation. The men in uniform swooped down after Amit Malviya, at the helm of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s potent social media wing, accused The Wire of running a fake story that had tarnished his reputation: The Wire had alleged that Mr Malviya’s special privileges with Meta had enabled him to take down posts critical of the BJP on Instagram. After allegations of inconsistencies emerged, The Wire suspended access to its stories, conducted an ‘internal review’, and retracted the report. It was subjected to a disproportionate retaliation even though it played by the book. This anomaly — targeted punishment even after the media entity owned up to an error and retracted a story — must be one of the enduring features of press freedom under Narendra Modi’s watch. The episode raises an additional — relevant — concern for the media fraternity. News gathering is tricky business, with sensitive information often being obtained from anonymous sources. It is possible that such intimidatory action would — is meant to? — discourage sources from sharing crucial nuggets with the media.
Of course, the response of the powers that be to The Wire is by no means unprecedented. One of the world’s largest democracies has, earlier, been a mute witness to this government cracking down on a number of media organisations. NDTV suffered the proverbial knock on the door by the taxman, as did Newslaundry. Meanwhile, the news channel, MediaOne, has had its security clearance denied by the Central government without being given reasons — a point that has attracted the attention of the Supreme Court. The consequence of stifling the media is apparent. India has continued to slide on the Press Freedom Index, with the deterioration being marked since the BJP’s assumption of political dominance. Indian democracy’s fate would be contingent on robust checks and balances against such predations on the media.