Targeting of Newsclick Seen as 'Attack on Role of Independent Journalism'

The online news portal has been on the receiving end of attacks from India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, based on claims published in a New York Times report.

New Delhi: Over 750 individuals from different walks of life including the media and academia have expressed solidarity with the online news portal Newsclick which has been on the receiving end of attacks from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, based on claims published in a New York Times report.

The Wire has reported how BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had on August 7 cited a report by the New York Times in the Lok Sabha to claim that Congress leaders and NewsClick had received funds from China to create an “anti-India” atmosphere.

Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick’s owner, issued a statement denying “any insinuation that [NewsClick] function[s] as a mouth-piece of the Communist Party of China or other interests”. However, BJP MPs and mainstream media channels soon afterwards shared and highlighted the NYT piece multiple times to attack the news portal.

A day later, Newsclick’s Twitter account was suspended. It has now been restored.

The signatories include senior journalists, activists, judges, lawyers, academics, scientists, writers, artists, filmmakers, actors and other concerned citizens.

Among the signatories are journalists N. Ram, Prem Shankar Jha, Siddharth Varadarajan and M.K. Venu (founding editors of The Wire), Sudheendra Kulkarni, P. Sainath, and Vaishna Roy (editor of Frontline), activists John Dayal, Bezwada Wilson (national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan), Syeda Hameed, Harsh Mander and Aruna Roy (of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan), legal practitioners Sanjay Hegde, Justice K. Chandru, Colin Gonsalves, and Prashant Bhushan.

Writers and academics K. Satchidanandan, Jerry Pinto, Damodar Mauzo, Romila Thapar, Sumit Sarkar, K. M. Shrimali, Tanika Sarkar, Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, C.P. Chandrashekhar, Zoya Hasan, and Jean Dreze, and film personalities Ratna Pathak Shah, Naseeruddin Shah, and Anand Patwardhan are also among signatories.

The statement calls accusations against Newclick and its founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha “spurious” and highlights that the NYT report which triggered these attacks “does not allege any violation of law by Newsclick.”

The statement says that the news portal has been focused on the most oppressed sections of society and has been critical of the government.

“Since its inception, Newsclick has provided critical coverage of government policies and actions and their adverse impact on the lives of millions of our countrymen and women, focusing particularly on the struggles of the most oppressed and exploited sections of our society, its workers and peasants. It has sought to articulate their anguish and distress and to highlight the role of people’s movements of all hues fighting for social justice. It has also carried reports that critically analyse international events seen through the often differing perspectives of individual authors.”

The hounding of Newsclick is an attack on the freedom of expression granted in the Indian constitution, the signatories say, highlighting that the website offers the kind of information that is necessary for people to fight the injustice they are subjected to.

“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.”

The statement also pushes under the spotlight the limited space for independent journalist. It says:

“Unfortunately, in the era of corporate-owned media, the space for independent journalism that is free of corporate influence has shrunk. 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.”