Searches against The Wire’s journalists: Concerns expressed over “chilling” effect

DIGIPUB News India Foundation, in a press release, has strongly condemned the searches conducted at the residences of The Wire’s founding editors and seizure of their mobile phones by the Delhi Police, and has expressed concerns that it would prevent journalists from doing their jobs.

ON Monday, the Delhi Police searched the homes of The Wire’s founding editors, Siddharth Varadarajan, M K Venu, and Sidharth Bhatia, and its Deputy Editor, Jahnavi Sen. Besides, the police has also reportedly obtained their laptops, mobile phones and other electronic devices along with their passwords. The Wire’s editors, according to reports, have fully cooperated with the investigation.

The searches took place two days after Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Amit Malviya filed a First Information Report (FIR) against them on charges of cheating (Section 415), forgery (section 463), defamation (section 499), and criminal conspiracy (section 120A) under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Malviya’s complaint relates to a series of stories published by The Wire about the social media company Meta. The stories alleged that he had special censorship privileges through an Instagram programme called X-Check. On October 23, The Wire removed these articles online,  claiming that it had been deceived by a member of its investigative team.

DIGIPUB News India Foundation, an association of digital media organisations, of which The Leaflet is also a member, in a press release, said:

“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 editors’ homes, based entirely on a private complaint of defamation filed by a spokesperson of the ruling party, smacks of malafide intentions. Moreover, the danger of these searches being used as an excuse to seize and duplicate confidential and sensitive data held by The Wire cannot be dismissed.”

The press release further said:

“While any fair investigation must follow the rule of law, it cannot become a tool to further 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.

DIGIPUB strongly condemns in no uncertain terms the searches against the editors and reporter of The Wire, and urges which mainly serve the purpose of criminalising and creating a chilling effect against the profession of journalism in India.”

Read the statement here.