Journalist bodies condemn freezing of NewsClick bank accounts by I-T department
They also condemned the action for flouting basic norms of natural justice and labour laws
Prominent journalist bodies on Wednesday deplored the freezing of the bank accounts of news portal NewsClick by the income-tax department and said the move that violated laws has in one stroke deprived close to 100 mediapersons and their families of a steady source of income.
NewsClick said on Tuesday that its bank accounts were frozen by the I-T department and it will undertake legal measures against the "unjust and cruel" action.
"We, the undersigned journalist organisations, deplore in the strongest terms the freezing of the accounts of the web news portal NewsClick. This move by the IT department without any warning whatsoever has in one stroke deprived close to a hundred mediapersons and their families of a steady source of income," the journalist bodies said in a joint statement.
With the seizure of the bank accounts, they noted, the salaries of all employees, including the support staff, of the portal cannot be disbursed, "including for the 19 days of work in December".
"This action by the IT department also flouts basic norms of natural justice and labour laws," they said. "The portal has maintained that it has always complied with tax regulations and that there was no basis for the IT department to freeze its accounts."
The statement was jointly released by the Press Association, the Press Club of India, the Indian Women's Press Corps, the Delhi Union of Journalists, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists and the Working News Cameramen's Association (WNCA).
"It is important to note that the present development comes on the heels of sustained harassment in the form of ED raids and IT surveys in 2021 and the arrest of NewsClick's founder Prabir Purkayastha and administrative officer Amit Chakravarty in October this year," the journalist bodies said.
Purkayastha and Chakravarty have been booked under "draconian clauses" and it has been observed that such arrests of mediapersons have become "the norm rather than the exception", they added. "Both continue to be in judicial custody for an indefinite period of time."
The journalist bodies expressed concern over the "indiscriminate" seizure of electronic equipment, such as mobile phones and computers, under the pretext of investigation.
"While other independent media have also suffered such excesses with equipment being seized and confiscated for months altogether, in October, for the first time, electronic equipment like mobile phones and laptops of NewsClick journalists, former employees and even contributors were seized in an early morning operation, which was unprecedented in itself," they said.
Many, who are the sole earners in their families, had to buy new equipment in order to continue working as there was no assurance that their seized equipment would be returned within a definite time-frame and that too, in an untampered condition, the journalists bodies said.
In addition, the "summoning and questioning" for days together of NewsClick staff and reporters on the pretext of investigation has been another mode of "sustained harassment" by the special cell of the Delhi Police, they charged.
"We demand that the harassment of the media and mediapersons in the form of raids, arrests under non-bailable draconian clauses, freezing of accounts without prior intimation and the seizure of electronic equipment sans any guidelines or parameters should stop forthwith," the journalist bodies said. "As such, equipment is the lifeline for persons operating in the media space, such seizures effectively target livelihoods."
"Just as the other pillars of our democracy need to be allowed to function independently, so does the media. An independent media strengthens democracy, demoralising and stifling it will have the opposite effect," they said.