‘Worst time for journalism in India’: Outrage at Press Club protest over NewsClick searches

Journalists had initially planned a protest march to Jantar Mantar, but permission was denied.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep

“Free the press”; “stop harassing Indian media”; “say no to persecution of the media”. These were jottings on several posters and banners as the clock ticked past 4 pm, and journalists, academics, writers and activists began to fill the courtyard at the Press Club of India in Lutyens’ Delhi.

It was a public meeting to protest against the police action against NewsClick. Journalists had initially planned a march to Jantar Mantar but permission was denied. Several prominent names were in attendance at the Press Club, including historian Ramachandra Guha, writer Arundhati Roy, RJD MP Manoj Kumar Jha, and activists Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. 

Hours before the protest began, NewsClick had issued a statement to condemn the police action. The same day, 16 press associations, including the Press Club of India, also sent out a letter to the Chief Justice of India, asking for the courts to consider three points: the framing of norms to discourage the seizure of journalists’ devices; guidelines for seizures and the interrogation of journalists; and finding ways to ensure accountability of state agencies.

Kicking off the protest at the club’s premises, PCI president Gautam Lahiri termed it a long battle. 

“More journalists will be harassed...we are thankful to the government that they are giving us the opportunity to protest against them and they are uniting us,” he said, reading out the letter to the Chief Justice of India. 

“The fact is that today, a large section of journalists in India finds itself working under the threat of reprisal. And it is imperative that the judiciary confronts power with a fundamental truth – that there is a Constitution to which we are all answerable,” the letter read. “The invocation of UAPA is especially chilling. Journalism cannot be prosecuted as ‘terrorism’. Enough instances in history abound to tell us where that eventually goes.”

Lahiri also announced that the PCI had decided to seek an appointment with the CJI. 

Meanwhile, Yogendra Yadav told Newslaundry that the recent searches were part of “a wider pattern”. “The pattern is very clear: whoever speaks truth to power would be dragged into some phony cooked up case. The message is exactly the same as it was with the BBC. They may find something or they may not, that doesn’t matter. The idea is to terrorise the journalists.”

Ramachandra Guha criticised the use of UAPA against journalists and said this is the “worst phase” for journalism in India. “They want to create fear among young journalists. Their parents would say not to do such things and find some safer jobs. Or join a Godi media channel where at least they would get a good salary…They perhaps want to create fear among the young journalists.”

There was applause as senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who was questioned for nearly 10 hours on Tuesday, was invited to the podium. But the microphone suddenly malfunctioned.

Despite the technical hiccup, Thakurta managed to recount his ordeal, describing how he was taken from his home in Gurgaon after he initially refused to surrender his electronic devices. He also talked about the questions he was asked, ranging from the nature of his association with NewsClick to his work.

There was momentary chaos when an unidentified protester flashed a placard saying “China ke dalaal” and immediately left the club’s premises – NewsClick has been accused of Chinese propaganda.

Minutes later, PCI president Lahiri announced that the protest had ended due to a problem with the microphone, promising that it would resume on Friday. 

Lukewarm participation of young journalists?

Many present at the protest seemed happy over the presence of senior journalists. “Lot of senior journalists are present today. Prem Shekhar Jha, Qamar Waheed Naqvi and many others. This is apart from senior academics like Apoorvanand…This is really a good sign,” said a member of the Press Club, calling the meeting a “good success”.

While senior journalists were well-represented at the protest, the participation of young journalists was relatively low. 

Samriddhi Sakunia, a freelance journalist earlier with the HW News Network, told Newslaundry that she came because she can relate to NewsClick staffers as an independent journalist. “I know how intimidation happens and how traumatic it is.  You never know you might get arrested for a report that you wrote two years ago. This is why I can relate to what all is happening with NewsClick journalists and what they are going through. They don't know what the future holds for them.”

Dharan Gaur, a journalist who works for digital media outlet AAA Media, said the incident  has “made us realise” how vulnerable young journalists are if the authorities can act against even senior journalists in such a manner.

Newslaundry has reported in detail on the NewsClick case and how events unfolded yesterday. Read about it here.


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