It is unusual to link the ethics of the necessity of speaking truth to power to journalism.But in our times when lies have become common currency,and savants are falling silent journalists providing facts and reasoned interpretation of verifiable facts become entrusted with that task.Naturally it upsets the established powers and they resort to usual terror tactics of the state to gag them.
Several aspects of the case against NEWSCLICK are at once typical and distressing.First the role of the police.There had been striking precedents,but regrettably had been taken lightly by the courts.First,both in the Bhima Koregaon case and the alleged terror angle in the Delhi riots case the police had been so sickeningly casual and motivated by purely political intentions in providing solid evidence that the courts had been scathing in their comments on the loose,slapdash and baseless allegations asserted by the police without reasonable evidence in mounting charges of horrendous anti-national conspiracy .That suggests not only waste of courts’ valuable time,not only most deplorable loss of liberty of those falsely accused for many wasted years,but also a very serious flaw in access to justice in our country.It is also disquieting that mobiles and laptops of those detained for questioning without ensuring safeguards against their later tampering.The highest court should lose no time in strictly reprimanding the centre and urging an amendment of the UAPA to restrict scope for its abuse with greater specificity.And there should be a penal clause there to restrain the police from using it for palpable political ends.
Next the main source and basis of the allegations appears to be an article in NEW YORK TIMES that suggested that investment in the portal by an America-based tycoon who has alleged links with the Chinese Communist party was a matter of grave import if China indeed secretly provided funds for promoting her views in foreign press,especially her views on Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir in India.
As for such articles and reports it is notorious that NYT,while a respectable newspaper,is close to the Amrican establishment and from time to time it publishes reports or articles based on plausible facts supplied by CIA,the Pentagon and other agencies to promote critical and controversial decisions and policies of the American government.A glaring example has been an Op Ed piece that supported the rationale for the infamous Iraq War: its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction supported by an array of concocted facts all of which were later proved spurious.NYT later was forced to apologize to the American public with a front-page retraction.
Hence mere appearance of such an article or report in NYT can hardly be regarded as clinching evidence of such treason to the nation.At best it could serve as a lead for responsible intelligence agencies to check.The ED has been doing so since 2021 and has apparently drawn a blank.The Delhi police then took over to cast the wide net of UAPA to entangle the targetted portal.Guilt by association rather than solid factual evidence seems to have been the sickeningly familiar yet tenuous ground for indictment under UAPA.
Neville Roy Singham the reported donor or investor of these funds has not been investigated and found guilty of any wrong-doing by any official American agency.He has claimed that all this has been quite above board.And the police have not provided evidence of any kind of content appearing in the NEWSCLICK that repeated Chinese propaganda on Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.Its views on these subjects or those of any contributor would normally be supported by factual evidence,not by mere assertion since these are extremely sensitive matters. Mere coincidence of its views,if supported by verifiable facts and reasonable conjectures, with those of China’s official organs,cannot be considered proof of guilt.
Let me cite the example of Professor John Mearsheimer.He is a distinguished Anericah political scientist highly regarded for his work on contemporary China.His views on such matters based on solid research resemble those of Chinese officials and contrary to the official stand of the US government and conventional public opinion.For his views he used to be quite popular with Chinese academics and students during his visits to China.But that does not automatically turn him into a China agent.Such is the real substance of freedom of expression.
Strangely enough the police had detained and questioned for hours together not only the founder-editor and HRD executive of NEWSCLICK,but as many as 46 members of the staff with narry a link with these two points of contention..They were reportedly asked if they had reported on the Shaheen Bag protest and the epic battle of farmers against the government’s farm bills.The reason appears to be a persistent attempt to establish an overarching grand theory about a far-reaching plot to destabilize the nation and challenge the state,mounted from many angles and by different agents,all part of a giant chain of conspiracy.The copy of FIR given to the accused eventually turned out to have included them among the reasons for holding them guilty of criminal conspiracy against the nation.
The wonder is that since the end of that historic struggle support to it has not been declared a crime against the state.During the two year long struggle thousands of people had expressed fervent support to it by word or deed.When did it turn into treason? Likewise if the protesters at Shaheen Bag were slapped with the charge of anti-national conspiracy;it has not stood scrutiny of courts.These charges appear to touch the height of absurdity.In fact they themselves seem to demean the dignity of the state and our laws.
Do the authorities themselves believe in such claptrap?Or it is an example of conspiracy of the government against the citizens? It is hard to say.But it seems the party in power labours under such an overwhelming sense of its entitlement,that the merest questioning of its policies and decisions appears in its eyes grave treason.The rising tide of discontent and protest has deeply scandalized it and it is making a desperate attempt to safeguard its purported divinely sanctioned legitimacy.One hopes courts will do their bounded duty to return it to its senses.
Hiren Gohain is a political commentator