New Delhi/Lucknow- The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has taken over the case of alleged FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) violation by the news portal Newsclick and has lodged a case. The Special Cell of the Delhi Police arrested Newsclick founder Prabir Purkayasath and Amit Chakrabortry, the HR head of the organization, on October 3 under the draconian anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The crackdown came almost a month after The New York Times investigation alleged that the news portal had received funding from a network pushing Chinese propaganda.
Other journalists associated with Newsclick, like Bhasha Singh, Abhishar Sharma, and Urmilesh, were also taken into custody before being released. The police have confiscated their laptops and mobile phones. Opposition leaders have criticized the action against Newsclick, calling it an act of intimidation.
The Mook Nayak spoke to several leaders on the side lines of the Joint rally of Communist Parties in Lucknow. Subhashini Ali, the Politburo member of the CPM, said, "Newsclick is a very special kind of news portal that is concerned with listening to the voices of the people whose demands are not being heard. It is a portal committed to showing people all over India how people are struggling against the government and authoritarian laws. They have been growing in popularity."
She said that the charge that the money was coming from China to prolong the farmers' movement is a huge insult to the farmers' movement, and the farmers have also taken it very seriously. This is an attack on the media that wants to crush. She added that the government wants a media that praises them and talks about their agenda, creating and provoking communal violence. The government has realized that it is only the alternative media like Newsclick and The Mooknayak that are telling people the truth and growing in popularity.
Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) spoke to The Mooknayak and said, "There are only a few journalists left in the country who are conveying the reality to the public. They have not been able to prove the charges, and now that they have not been able to prove UAPA, and as there was no basis for ED, they have now involved the CBI." Notably, Delhi Police also raided Yechury's residence, looking for the son of a party staff member who works at NewsClick.
Dipankar Bhattacharjee, while addressing the rally of communist parties in Lucknow, said that it is the impact of journalists working through social media like YouTube that the Prime Minister had to ask people to subscribe to the YouTube channel by clicking the bell icon. Some people like Urmilesh, who belongs to Uttar Pradesh, and Bhasha Singh from Lucknow. The government calls sycophancy journalism and journalism terrorism. These journalists, he said, are the ones who talk about us and the journalists who expose the truth and show the mirror to society.
FCRA, or the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, has its origins in the Emergency. Coincidentally, Prabir Purkayastha, the founder of Newsclick, which has been charged with FCRA violations, was also arrested during the Emergency. The FCRA was enacted during the Emergency in 1976 due to the apprehension that foreign powers were influencing India's affairs by funneling money into the country through independent organizations as a conduit. This law sought to regulate foreign donations to individuals and associations so that they functioned "in a manner consistent with the values of a sovereign democratic republic."
This law has been further amended in 2010 and as recently as 2020. The act prohibits certain people from receiving any foreign contributions. Such people include election candidates, editors or publishers of newspapers, judges, government servants, members of any legislature, and political parties, among others. In January 2020, the FCRA license of more than 10,000 NGOs was canceled. In January 2022, the government canceled the licenses of non-profits such as Oxfam India and the Centre for Policy Research.
However, one needs to remember that this is not the first time that the portal has come under the government's radar. Earlier in 2021, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had raided the premises of Newsclick in New Delhi. Over the years, the BJP-led NDA government has received criticism worldwide for its aggressive stance toward the media and journalists, and the country slipped 11 points in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, ranking at 161 among 180 countries, down from 150 earlier.
In India, the mainstream media is owned by wealthy businessmen close to Prime Minister Modi, according to a scathing report on World Press Freedom Day May 3. The report argued that this is particularly the case in "hybrid" regimes such as India (161st) where journalists are subjected to intimidation. "At the same time, Modi has an army of supporters who track down all online reporting regarded as critical of the government and wage horrific harassment campaigns against the sources. Caught between these two forms of extreme pressure, many journalists are, in practice, forced to censor themselves," the report stated.
The Press Freedom Index assesses the level of freedom available to journalists and media outlets in each country by evaluating various factors such as the legal environment, political influences, censorship, violence against journalists, and access to information. It has been published annually since 2002, with the organization regularly reviewing its criteria and revising its ranking methodology.
The Press Freedom Index highlights the top and worst performers based on their scores. For the seventh year running, Norway topped the list with a score of 89.91. It was followed by Ireland, Denmark (3rd), Sweden (4th), and Finland (5th) as the top countries with excellent press freedom indexes.
On the other end of the spectrum, North Korea remained at the bottom of the list among the 180 countries that were evaluated. Russia, another major global player, was ranked at the 164th position, down from 155 last year.
Nepal was the only neighbour of India to rank in the top 100 countries, coming in at 95th place, although it slipped considerably from its 76th ranking in the previous edition. However, an indicator of the escalation of press freedom in India is that Pakistan replaced India at 150th place, showing improvement from the previous year's 157th ranking. Sri Lanka also performed better than India, securing the 135th spot. India can take solace in the fact that it is still ranked slightly better than its neighbours, with Bangladesh at the 163rd position and Myanmar at the 173rd spot. China was ranked at the 175th position.