Explained: The raids on news portal NewsClick, and the background
What are the charges and what are the allegations?
In a surprise move, on October 3, officers of a special cell of Delhi police raided at least 35 locations connected to online news portal NewsClick, including the houses of seven journalists.
During the raid, the police seized electronic evidence including laptops, mobile phones of journalists writing for NewsClick and took data dumps of hard disks. No arrests have been made so far, but media reports said some journalists have been taken to police stations for questioning.
This action triggered outrage among the journalist community and the Press Club of India issued a statement saying that it is "deeply concerned" about the raids and urged the government to come out with the details. Meanwhile, it said that it "stood in solidarity" with the journalists and will release a detailed statement.
So, what is the NewsClick controversy? What are the allegations against them and why have they been raided?
What is NewsClick?
NewsClick is an independent media organisation covering news from India and elsewhere with a focus on progressive movements, according to the portal's website. It was founded in 2009 by Prabir Purkayastha, who is also the editor-in-chief of the organisation. Purkayastha is an activist in the science space and the free software movement. He possesses a background in engineering and is an advocate of scientific initiatives.
NewsClick has been very proactive in reporting the farmers’ movement, among other topics.
What is the reason behind today's sudden raid?
NewsClick has been under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) since 2021, which had been probing its sources of funding. This time, however, Delhi police's special cell has registered a new case on August 17. According to news reports, the police is now raiding the media firm on the basis of inputs provided by the ED.
What is this new case against NewsClick?
This raid comes in the wake of a news report in The New York Times in August that NewsClick allegedly received money from US millionaire Neville Roy Singham for pro-China propaganda in India.
The report had claimed that tech mogul Singham, who finances NewsClick, and the Communist Party of China (CCP), fuelled disinformation and influenced mainstream narratives by promoting pro-China messages.
The NYT had reported, “The authorities in India raided a news organisation tied to Mr Singham during a crackdown on the press, accusing it of having ties to the Chinese government but offering no proof… In New Delhi, corporate filings show, Mr. Singham’s network financed a news site, NewsClick, that sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points.”
News reports said quoting government sources that funds were allegedly received illegally by NewsClick and documents were not provided to the authorities. Meanwhile, citing the NYT investigative report, information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur too recently claimed that NewsClick's money trail revealed an "anti-India agenda."
And, post the NYT report, NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha had told The Indian Express, “These are not new allegations. They have been made in the past. We will respond to them in the appropriate forum, i.e. the court, as the matter is sub judice.” In this case, the Delhi High Court has given NewsClick promoters protection from arrest, and the matter is now in court.
The organisation was also raided by the Income Tax Department in 2021.
What is the law under which the new case has been registered?
The case was filed on August 17 after the NYT report under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.
What is the older case against NewsClick?
NewClick has already been under the scanner of the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) and the ED for allegedly receiving funds from China, routed through the United States. The news portal had also faced an income tax raid in 2021.
In 2021, the ED first conducted a search on the NewsClick’s premises as part of a probe into alleged foreign remittances. The ED alleged that the online portal was receiving foreign funding in violiation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
The ED alleged that the news portal received a sum of nearly ₹38 crore from Neville Roy Singham to peddle pro-China information in India. It is also questioning infusion of foreign inward remittances by way of FDI and also by way of export of services. Media reports quoted ED officials as saying the portal has not given any evidence of providing services to these entities through exports. A property valued at ₹4.52 crore has also been seized under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Another news report said that the ED is conducting an inquiry into the purportedly “fraudulent” inflow of foreign funds amounting to over ₹86 crore into the company operating the news portal.
Why are activists figuring in these allegations?
Raids were also being carried out at the Mumbai house of civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad. The ED is reportedly probing fund transfers from NewsClick to Teesta Setalvad and to other activists like Gautam Navlakha and journalist and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. These activists and journalists have contributed articles to the portal.
Most of the information available on the incident on the public domain is only from media reports quoting sources. An authenticated official picture is yet to emerge.