Pune: A Marathi news portal, MaxMaharashtra’s YouTube channel, which is known for its anti-establishment stand, has reportedly been hacked and deleted. Along with the channel, a number of videos uploaded since its inception in 2016 have also been allegedly deleted. The founder and editor suspects that the channel’s its anti-establishment stand is the reason behind this attack and said that these are new ways to attack the media unlike physical attacks earlier.
Maxmaharashtra’s YouTube news channel which has 2.61 lakh subscribers and 2.98 crores viewers was hacked and deleted at 8 PM on November 9. Besides, hackers had uploaded porn videos on its Hindi channel MaxMaharashtra Hindi.
The founder and editor Ravindra Ambekar said that he was not surprised as his friends had warned him about a cyber-attack on his channel or website and also said that even Facebook had put many restrictions on his Facebook Page objecting to content despite the fact that it never created any controversial content.
Ambekar while talking to NewsClick said, “When we were uploading videos on our YouTube channel on the evening of November 9, we realised that our channel was removed. We immediately mailed Google and YouTube about the attack and also filed an online complaint with the Cyber Department. We have changed all the passwords. Hackers have changed the ownership of the channel and we can no longer access the channel, which can be a problem.”
The channel uploads over 50 videos including 15 ground reports and new bulletins daily. Thousands of videos uploaded in the last three years have been deleted. The channel and website has a staff of 50 and barring 12,who work at the desk, all are area reporters/stringers from across the state.
Ambekar added that he was not very surprised with the latest incident, as earlier, too, he had faced many issues. He said, “Generally our videos and website get thousands of hits. But during elections, it had gone down to 500 and so on. This was suspicious.”
Earlier, Facebook had put several restrictions on the news portal’s FB page. Ambekar said, “On October 12 before Maharashtra state elections, FB told us that we are violating community guidelines of FB by putting story links of our website saying that its digital marketing. My repeated requests that we don’t sell any product for profit or don’t create controversial content went unheard. Nevertheless, they put restrictions on us, some of which were removed after election results.”
He also added, “Facebook admin had accused us of violating community guidelines when we had used links of articles by Ravish Kumar, Nikhil Wagle and Rajdeep Sardesai. If articles by renowned journalists like Ravish Kumar who has won Magsaysay Award, Sardesai who has won Padmashri and Wagle violate community guidelines it is indeed very sad.”
He also pointed out that these are new ways of attacking media and freedom of speech. He said, “We have seen physical attacks on media offices or media persons and we understand the gravity in such cases. But these attacks of hacking or deleting websites to restrict access is a new form of illegal curb on media and people don’t understand the seriousness of this attack.”
However, following the hacking incident, hundreds of its viewers including former chief minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan and opposition leader Dhananjay Munde have criticised the attack and have extended their support to the channel.
One of the regular follower of the website and channel said, “Max has given voices to distressed farmers, students who could not appear for exams and even candidates in election who did not have money to appear at mainstream channels. They report from rural areas where no mainstream channel goes. This is like suppressing the voice of common man and a kind of digital terror.”
Many have tweeted supporting Max and alleged that this is an attempt to suppress media.
Senior journalist Nikhil Wagle suspects that when channels or websites criticise the ruling party, such attacks take place. He alleged, “I think its being deliberately done. Why would anybody hack or attack a website? Max has been getting good response and it has viewership among bahujan and lower middle class and that has been poking some people. This is vendetta. My video on Max generally gets two lakh or more hits but the video where I had criticised Devendra Fadnavis had not got more than 80K hits. This is fishy.”
A cyber expert said that in cases like this, old content had been recovered and YouTube will be able to recover the content for this channel.