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Chinese Puppetry on Show!

Probing charges of money laundering, peddling of Chinese propaganda by NewsClick is not suppression of press freedom 


Noise on suppression of press freedom and free speech has not yet reached a crescendo. This noise has just begun in India with Left parties, their frontal organizations and anti-Modi political alliance partners going for the kill.


Few activists from these political formations hit the streets on Wednesday protesting a probe against alleged China funded portal ‘NewsClick’ that reportedly laundered  money to bankroll the dragon’s ‘propaganda’ vehicle.

Portal’s founder Prabir Purkayastha and his human resources head were rounded up by special operations unit of Delhi Police after having questioned over a dozen journalists, consultants and later seized their devices for further investigation.

Big question therefore is why all the noise on purported suppression of press freedom in India? Well, this is not the first time that such false narrative was peddled or reported in domestic and foreign media outlets in last ten-odd years.

Two big charges against ‘NewsClick’ and its front-enders is that the organization worked as ‘propaganda vehicle’ for China. And, second serious charge is that foreign funds were routed through a millionaire businessman Neville Roy Singham to take forward nefarious Chinese Communist Party agenda in India.

Well, only an in-depth investigation will bring out the facts and stick out separated from the organized noise of fringe Left parties that claim to protect, cherish and embellish Mao’s jinxed political thought.

Firstly, is it a crime to investigate possible wrong doing by anyone concerned with ‘NewsClick’? The probe was launched by Delhi Police, Enforcement Directorate and other agencies only after having filed a detailed first information report against the accused on August 17 taking cognizance of ‘Chinese Propaganda machine’ related reports that appeared in The New York Times.

These very political formations and self-styled proponents of ‘free press’ that hit the streets have had sworn by NYT on more than one occasion to hit out at the Modi government. Now, what’s wrong in investigating ‘NewsClick’ based on newspaper reports and Enforcement Directorate’s own research?

The New York Times had pointed to a global web of Chinese propaganda that involved American non-profits which stretched from Chicago to Shanghai. This web as per NYT had NewsClick as an active participant.  

Now, why can’t the law enforcement agencies do their job of enforcing probity in public life, negate possible China propaganda campaign and stem laundering of foreign funds that made their way into ‘NewsClick’ during 2018 – 21 and used ‘against the Indian state’?  Does this tantamount to suppressing press freedom? Or, is initiation of an inquiry anti-democratic by any stretch of imagination?

It’s rather surprising that newspapers like ‘The Hindu’ and ‘Indian Express’ that were at forefront of investigating Bofors scam in early ‘80s and ‘90s editorialized the police action on ‘NewsClick’ as smacking of supressing press freedom. And, it is rather laughable.

Crackdown against suspected crime by elements inimical to Bharat’s interests or exposing ‘NewsClick’ handlers in US and China cannot be equated with Smt Indira Gandhi’s decision to suspend basic citizens’ rights, impose internal emergency and curb press freedom in 1975 after an adversarial verdict of Allahabad High Court.

Wouldn’t Ramnath Goenka, founder of Indian Express and Kasturi Ranga Iyengar of ‘The Hindu’ turn in their graves at the suggestion of curbing press freedom for investigating against ‘NewsClick’ management and their handlers?

As in case of any individual or organization, don’t journalists have basic responsibility to submit before law enforcement agencies seeking to get at the truth? Making hue and cry of a probe may not drown the truth about irregularities at ‘NewsClick’.

At best, NewsClick is a scrappy outlet that used invectives and propaganda to try and corner Narendra Modi government. And, it gained prominence only after The New York Times investigation linked it to a network that funded pro-China campaigns.

Similar noise and public outrage was on show after BBC India operations were scrutinized for violation of Indian taxation laws. Tax sleuths assessment forced BBC to admit that it had under-reported revenues, profits and thereby evaded taxes. Reuters, The Hindustan Times and The Mint newspapers reported that BBC under-reported incomes worth Rs 40 crore to evade taxes.

Well, income tax assessment of UK government funded BBC accounts was blown out of proportion and several of these very propagandists had jumped in to cite suppression of press freedom. There was no plausible explanation on how enforcement of domestic tax laws was same as suppression of press freedom. In the first place, big question was how did a foreign government funded media organization gather courage to evade taxes? Certainly, India is neither a banana republic nor subservient outpost of the erstwhile British imperialist rulers.

When news laundry, yet another website were surveyed by Income Tax officials in 2021, similar charges of ‘intimidation and press freedom’ were heaped against the law enforcement agencies. Rule of law is what matters. Whether it is Bharat Samachaar or Dainik Bhaskar, media organizations need to be upfront given their distinct responsibility to readers, people that go by what appears in the media and the country.

If thousands of websites, newspapers, TV Channels, social media handles owned by Indians, domestic corporates and foreign collaborations have been freely undertaking news operations, then where’s this suppression of press freedom? Seeking accountability is not equivalent to suppression of press freedom and rights.

Newspapers, magazines and other media outlets in India like elsewhere have taken an independent editorial line in sync with their beliefs, understanding and assessment of a government, its policies and political ideologies.

Editorial positioning of a media organization is distinctly different from resorting to irregularities, wrong doing, anti-India propaganda or joining flanks with the enemy.

Let’s not equate press freedom with irregularities and anti-India tacit operations. Freedom comes with responsibility.

(Author is Director& Chief Executive of New Delhi based non-partisan think tank, Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies)

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