DIGIPUB and other journalists' organisations slam police searches at ‘The Wire’

DIGIPUB pointed out that the danger of these searches “being used as an excuse” to seize and duplicate confidential and sensitive data “cannot be dismissed”

DIGIPUB and other journalists' organisations slam police searches at ‘The Wire’

NH Web Desk

DIGIPUB, an association of digital media organisations has condemned on Tuesday the searches carried out by the Delhi Police at the offices of news portal "The Wire" and the houses of its editors on the basis of a complaint filed by BJP leader Amit Malviya.

The DIGIPUB News India Foundation said the “arbitrary” action, based on a private complaint of defamation, smacks of mala fide intentions. It pointed out that the danger of these searches “being used as an excuse” to seize and duplicate confidential and sensitive data “cannot be dismissed”.

“A journalist or a media organisation that publishes a false report ought to be held accountable by its peers and civil society. But for the police to carry out an immediate and arbitrary search of the media house’s office and its editors’ homes, based entirely on a private complaint of defamation filed by a spokesperson of the ruling party, smacks of mala fide intentions,” said the foundation in a statement. 

“While any fair investigation must follow the rule of law, it cannot become a tool to worsen the already fraught state of journalism in India, which has steadily declined in global indices of media freedom and democracy. We have witnessed numerous recent instances where criminal prosecution and harassment by the police have intimidated and prevented journalists from doing their jobs.”

The association strongly condemned in no uncertain terms the searches which “mainly serve the purpose of criminalising and creating a chilling effect against the profession of journalism in India”.

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), strongly condemned the actions of Delhi Police and stated that they failed to see how a police complaint by Malviya justified this excessive and arbitrary “search”. 

“Clearly, police have acted with speed, without sufficient preliminary investigation. The police action in raiding the premises of the senior editors of The Wire and their failure to register an FIR on the basis of The Wire's own complaint of forgery, smacks of a selective and discriminatory approach. The Wire has been rightly criticised for its failure to adhere to adequate editorial controls in their recent reporting on Meta. However, prima facie, it appears that the journalists themselves have been victims of forgery and elaborate deception and have retracted their stories,” read the NWMI statement. 

The network called the police searches highly unjustified and underscored that it indicated vindictiveness and mala fide intent by the ruling party. 

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists has termed the raids “an excessive reaction” by the Indian authorities. “The raids on the homes of The Wire editors is an excessive reaction by the Indian authorities,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Frankfurt, Germany. “The Wire has voluntarily withdrawn its reportage on Meta and Amit Malviya, apologised to its readers, and initiated an internal review. We call on authorities and politicians to cease the harassment.”

The news website The Wire stated that after the Delhi Police Crime Branch had searched the homes of their editors and the website’s office across Delhi and Mumbai, all the electronic devices were taken away but they were not provided the hash value of the seized devices. The DIGIPUB News India Foundation, Committee to Protect Journalists and NWMI have pointed towards the danger of these searches. 

The homes of The Wire’s founding editors Siddharth Varadarajan, MK Venu, Sidharth Bhatia, deputy editor Jahnavi Sen and product-cum-business head Mithun Kidambi were raided pursuant to a Section 91 notice issued in relation to an FIR lodged against them by BJP leader Amit Malviya. 

The Wire placed on record their demand for the hash value of the phones, computers and iPads seized and for cloned copies of the devices seized to be kept at a neutral place. The hash value is a unique numerical value used to ensure the integrity of a device and its data.

The news website’s office at Bhagat Singh Market in Delhi was also searched and one of their lawyers was physically pushed out by the officers at that site. “The Crime Branch party then took away the hard disks from the two computers used by the accounts staff, again without mention of any hash value or providing us a cloned copy so that the normal financial work so central to the day-to-day functioning of a media organisation can continue uninterrupted,” said The Wire in a statement.

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