Even as the Income Tax officials were continuing the raids at the office of media owner Raghav Bahl on Thursday, October 11, Associate Editor of the Quint, Poonam Agarwal, accused the IT officers of cloning the “journalistic and personal” data from the gadgets of her colleague and founder of the website, Ritu Kapoor.
In a series of tweets, she wondered, “can a government use IT raid to clone complete data to check what documents are on journalists’ computer and hard drive.” She also questioned the timing of the raids which, according to her, are happening at when the “government has been asked by the Supreme Court to furnish details of its decision-making process.”
President and Editorial Director of the Quint, Sanjay Pugalia, also took to Twitter and alleged that “Raghav Bahl and The Quint” were being targeted for their “independent and fearless journalism.”
Income Tax officials on Thursday carried out "surveys" at the residence and office of Quintillion Media Pvt Ltd in Noida, which runs the website The Quint and is owned by Raghav Bahl over alleged tax evasion, provoking angry reactions.
The Editors Guild of India has expressed its concern over “search and survey” conducted by the Income Tax officials at the home and office of media owner Raghav Bahl in Noida on Thursday morning.
Referring to Raghav’s statement in which he had asserted that “we are a fully tax compliant entity”, the top body of editors representing the media industry, maintained that “while the tax administration is within its rights to make inquiries in compliance with the relevant laws, it should not exercise those powers in a way that could be seen as an intimidation of the government's critics.”
“The Guild believes that motivated income-tax searches and surveys will seriously undermine media freedom and the government should desist from such attempts,” it maintained.
Earlier, in a note to the Editors' Guild, Raghav—who is the founder of the Quint news portal and was the head of Network18 group, before it was sold—said that The Quint was “fully tax compliant entity” and would provide all access to all appropriate financial document. He, however, said that he had already told one of the officers at his premises that he should not “try and pick up or see any other mail/document which is likely to contain very serious/sensitive journalistic material.” He said if they do that "we shall seek extremely strong recourse.”
The searches were in connection with "tax evasion", news agency Press Trust of India quoted officials as saying. Searches are being carried out on a few more people as part of the Income Tax Department's investigation of tax evasion by business professionals, PTI said.
“We believe in freedom of press and democratic values. If any media house is involved in corruption, they have to answer,” Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told media, responding to the queries about the raids if they were an attempt to suppress the media.
Several senior journalists have also described the raids as an attempt to intimidate the media critical of the Modi government. They took to Twitter and condemned the raids, calling it an attack on the freedom of press. Here’s a collection of some reactions critical of the raids by the income tax department and Modi government: