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Editors Guild condemns IT ‘surveys’ at offices of digital media portals

"The dangerous trend of government agencies harassing and intimidating independent media must stop as it undermines our constitutional democracy," it added.

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New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India has raised concerns over the Income Tax “surveys” at the offices of news websites NewsClick.in and Newslaundry.com. and said it is “the violation of free speech and freedom of the press”.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Editors Guild of India said, “The Guild is deeply concerned that such indiscriminate seizure of journalists’ data, which could include sensitive information such as details of sources, stories underworks is in violation of free speech and freedom of press.”

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“The dangerous trend of government agencies harassing and intimidating independent media must stop as it undermines our constitutional democracy,” it added.

On September 10, 2021, teams of IT officials visited the offices of the two media organisations and conducted “investigations throughout the day”. The IT department labelled it as ‘surveys’.

Meanwhile, as per the statement issued by Abhinandan Sekhri, co-founder of Newslaundry, the digital media portal said: “This was a clear intimidatory and blatant attack on their rights, and therefore press freedom”.

“This is clearly beyond the mandate of surveys as defined under section 133A of the Income Tax Act, which only allows data pertaining to the investigation to be copied, and certainly not personal and professional data of journalists,” Guild said in the statement quoting Newslaundry.

“It is also in violation of procedures laid out in the Information Technology Act, 2000,” Mr Sekhri added.

This was the second visit by an Income Tax team at the office of Newslaundry, the earlier one being in June.

In case of NewsClick, the Enforcement Directorate had conducted raids at their office as well as homes of their senior journalists and officials in February 2021.

In July 2021, Income Tax raids were conducted at the offices of the country’s leading newspaper Dainik Bhaskar, as well as a Lucknow-based news channel, Bharat Samachar.

It said, “the Guild demanded that great care and sensitivity be shown in all such investigations so as to not undermine the rights of journalists and media organisations.”

“Further, to ensure that such investigations are conducted within the prescribed rules and that they don’t degenerate into instruments of harassment to intimidate independent media,” the statement concluded.

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