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'Sheer Vendetta': Media Bodies Condemn Police ‘Searches’ at The Wire

Statements by media bodies expressed serious concerns over the ‘raids’ on the residences of senior editors of The Wire and its office based on a BJP leader’s complaint.
'Sheer Vendetta':  Media Bodies Condemn Police ‘Searches’ at The Wire

Journalist bodies on Tuesday condemned searches carried out by the Delhi Police at the offices of digital news publication The Wire and the houses of its editors based on a complaint filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Malviya.

In a joint statement, seven media bodies including the Press Association, Press Club of India and Digipub News India Foundation said the manner in which the Delhi Police has acted on the complaint of a BJP spokesperson "smacks of sheer vendetta" and has a chilling effect on the media and freedom of speech.

The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) also released a statement saying it was perturbed by the raids on the residences of senior editors of the news portal.

The police acted on Malviya’s complaint, which was regarding a series of stories published by The Wire about social media company Meta, claiming that he had special censorship privileges through an Instagram programme called "X-Check". The Wire had retracted the said articles last month, claiming that it was deceived by a member of its investigative team. It also published an apology to its readers, promising an internal investigation into the lapses.

The Wire’s admission of lapses was quickly seized upon by the BJP as well as the Delhi police to conduct raids is highly regrettable and deplorable. Clearly, vendetta politics is at play here, given The Wire’s reputation as an independent and critical news portal,” the BUJ said. It added that The Wire has long been targeted for its reports on the government’s policies and programmes. Thus, the latest raids were “excessive, arbitrary and cynical response” to the publication’s independent work, the BUJ said.

Underlining police excessive, the joint statement of press bodies said, "It is surprising that even after the news portal issued a detailed retraction for its editorial lapses, putting out the same in the public domain, the Delhi Police, based on the complaint of the BJP leader which includes a bevvy of charges including criminal clauses under the IPC, registered an FIR and chose to proceed (with) investigating the matter with uncharacteristic promptness.”

Along with the Delhi Union of Journalists, Working News Cameraman Association, Indian Journalists Union and Kerala Union of Working Journalists are also signatories to this joint statement.

Noting that The Wire’s promise of an internal investigation is in the tradition of the media’s self-regulation, the BUJ compared disproportionate action against the publication to those of other media excesses that posed harm to the society.“It would be pertinent to recall that in the recent past there have been numerous instances of media excesses and completely over-the-top stories by media houses: be it absurd reports of chips in currency notes; fake WhatsApp forwards on Chinese soldiers killed in Galwan or unalloyed hate-mongering and incitement. These “reports” have enjoyed complete immunity and have hurtled India into a post-Truth conjuncture, where the right to be reliably informed itself has been steadily jettison,” it said.

Earlier, in a separate statement, Digipub News India Foundation said that the searches "mainly serve the purpose of criminalising and creating a chilling effect against the profession of journalism in India".

On Monday, the Delhi Police conducted a search and seizure at the homes of The Wire’s founding editors Siddharth Varadarajan, MK Venu and deputy editor Jahnavi Sen in Delhi, and founding editor Sidharth Bhatia and business head Mithun Kidambi in Mumbai. The police seized their electronic devices.

They further conducted a search at The Wire’s office in Delhi and all electronic devices relevant to the probe were seized, according to PTI. P. The police also physically pushed the news publication’s lawyer out of the office, The Wire alleged.

Police Searches at The Wire 'Excessive': Editors Guild 

The Editors Guild of India on Wednesday said it was extremely disturbed by the manner in which the Delhi Police carried out searches and seizures at the homes of the editors of The Wire as well as their office and the newsroom, PTI reports.

"The haste with which the police searches were carried out at multiple locations, is excessive and disproportionate, and in the manner of a fishing and roving enquiry," the Guild said in a statement here.

The Guild also urged the Delhi Police to be objective and impartial in investigating all the complaints filed in this matter, and not use intimidatory tactics in disregard of democratic principles.

The Delhi Police was acting on a complaint of criminal defamation filed by BJP functionary Amit Malviya against 'The Wire'.

The Guild said as per a statement published by The Wire, the police personnel seized phones, computers, and iPads from homes of the journalists, as well as from the office, and no hash value of the digital devices was given in spite of requests made by them. 

"This is a serious violation of procedures and rules of investigation. Moreover, digital devices of editors and journalists would have sensitive information pertaining to journalistic sources and stories under work, the confidentiality of which can be seriously compromised in such seizures," it said.

The Guild noted that The Wire has already admitted to serious lapses in their reporting on stories pertaining to Meta with references to Malaviya. 

"These lapses are condemnable and the reports based on wrong information have since been withdrawn by The Wire," it said.

The Guild said the police search and seizures were in violation of established rules and in intimidatory manner is also alarming. 

It urged the law enforcement agencies to strictly adhere to rules of investigation in this matter, and to ensure that integrity of sensitive journalistic information is not violated and other on-going work of the news organisation is not obstructed. 

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