In a united front, several prominent journalist organizations have vehemently condemned the recent freezing of accounts belonging to the web news portal Newsclick by the Indian Income Tax (IT) department. The move, described as abrupt and lacking any prior warning, has not only financially impacted approximately a hundred media professionals and their families but has also raised concerns about due process and labour rights.
The signatories of the joint statement, including the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Delhi Union of Journalists, Press Association, Kerala Union of Working Journalists, and The Working News Cameraman’s Association (WNCA), expressed their strong disapproval of the actions taken by the IT department. The freezing of Newsclick’s accounts, without clear justification, has left employees, including support staff, without their salaries for the 19 days of work in December.
Newsclick, in response to the freezing of its accounts, has maintained that it has consistently adhered to tax regulations, challenging the basis for the IT department’s drastic measures. The signatories argue that such actions not only violate basic norms of natural justice but also contravene labour laws.
The statement highlights the recent sequence of events, including raids and surveys conducted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the IT department in 2021. The arrest of Newsclick’s founder, Prabir Purkayastha, and Administrative Officer Amit Chakraborty in October under draconian clauses has added to the concerns. Both individuals remain in judicial custody indefinitely.
A worrying trend noted by the journalist organizations is the indiscriminate seizure of electronic equipment, including mobile phones and computers, under the pretext of investigations. The signatories assert that such seizures, coupled with the ‘summoning’ and ‘questioning’ of Newsclick staff and reporters by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, constitute a sustained form of harassment.
The journalist organizations collectively demand an immediate cessation of harassment against the media and media persons, encompassing raids, arrests under non-bailable draconian clauses, freezing of accounts without prior intimation, and the arbitrary seizure of electronic equipment. They emphasize that the media, as a crucial pillar of democracy, must be allowed to function independently to strengthen democratic values rather than face demoralization and stifling.
The signatories stress the importance of safeguarding the media’s role and independence, asserting that an unbiased and independent media is vital for the robust functioning of democracy.