Al Jazeera Journalism Review

outside image
Delhi Police arrest Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Newsclick, Prabir Purkayastha, at his office on October 3, 2023 in New Delhi, India [Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

How the New York Times fuelled a crackdown on journalists in India

Vague reporting and a piece ‘laden with innuendo’ by the New York Times gave Indian authorities the excuse they needed to crack down on news website Newsclick


On the morning of October 3, New Delhi police raided the homes and offices of more than three dozen journalists and executives associated with NewsClick, a privately funded news portal, and arrested its editor, Prabir Purakayastha, and the head of the Human Rights department, Amit Chakraborty. 

The action came more than a month after the police in New Delhi registered a case against the portal, under India’s anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The police charged the outlet and its executives of fomenting criminal conspiracy and funding terror activities in the country. 

The case followed an investigative report by the New York Times which alleged that Newsclick was part of a network of media outlets that received money from a business run by an American entrepreneur, Neville Roy Singham, with alleged links to the Chinese government, with the aim of promoting pro-China propaganda. Journalists close to the power corridors cited anonymous officials saying that the police action against Newsclick was prompted directly by the New York Times story, which had been published on August 5. 

NewsClick 1
The New York Times's investigation which was published on August 5, just two months before Indian authorities raided Newsclick in New Delhi

The story highlighted the role of the network in creating a shield around the Chinese government from criticism over its repression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang region. But the Indian government has no love lost for Muslims, either in China or in India. The condition of Muslims in India under Modi is for everyone to see. News reports of  violence by police and Hindutva mobs against ordinary Muslims frequently dominate headlines in the country. 

The Chinese links, therefore, are seen by many as just an excuse. The real reason for the raids and arrests, critics say, is that Newsclick is one of only a few spaces left on the media scene in India that still platform critical journalism which aims to hold the government to account. This interpretation of events seems to have been substantiated by the fact that Newsclick journalists say they were asked questions about the platform’s coverage of the 2021 farmers’ protests and the 2019/2020 protests against a controversial citizenship law. 

The raids and arrests sparked renewed concerns about dwindling press freedom in the country as press freedom bodies issued statements condemning the police action. At the same time journalists and independent commentators also slammed New York Times for its shoddy and biassed reporting. 


New York Times should have done better 

While making a reference to Newsclick, the New York Times did not suggest that the portal had committed a crime or violated any laws. It did not go into detail to substantiate the claims  of Newsclick’s role in promoting the Chinese government’s propaganda. It said that the portal “sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points” and mentioned an innocuous line from a random video report, as an example, which said: “China’s history continues to inspire the working classes.” 

NewsClick 2
The short passage mentioning Newsclick did not give any detail or context

The story should have either delved deeper to back up the claims against the Newsclick or made no reference to the portal at all.

The story did not quote Singham or any Newsclick executives on the matter. In fact, on October 17, the American entrepreneur issued a statement denying the allegations made in the NYT report and accused the American paper of running a “misleading and innuendo-laden hit” piece. He further alleged that the paper “intentionally chose not to publish all the factual rebuttals that I provided to them on July 22, 2023, prior to their publication date”. 

Given that it had chosen to name Newsclick in its article, the newspaper could have provided some context to explain the portal's reporting, its editorial positions and the stifling environment it operates in - it did none of these things.

When the New York Times report was published, NewsClick was already being hounded by the country’s investigative agencies on allegations of financial irregularities. 

The circumstances at the time should have been enough for the New York reporters and editors to be extra circumspect before publishing the piece. However, they failed to assess the potential impact the story could have on dwindling press freedoms in India despite being clearly warned of this when one of the authors of the story approached Kavita Krishnan, a prominent left-leaning Indian activist. 

She told them that their story could fuel the crackdown on free press in India. In her column for Indian News Website Scroll, Krishnan wrote that she explained to the NYT reporter that even though Newsclick might form a small part  of the story, its impact “would be outsized” in India. 


Swift fallout

As soon as the story came out, the fallout was swift. The story provided ballast to rightwing trolls and the pro-government media to intensify the smear campaign against Newsclick. The demonisation of Newsclick on social and mainstream media enabled the government to tighten its noose around the portal.  

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, press freedom has diminished in India. The 2023 Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) places India at 161 out of 180 countries. This is 11 slots lower than it was in 2022. 

Modi’s government has been accused of using repressive means to silence journalists. Right now, at least seven journalists are in jail - some held under anti-terror laws. The New York Times itself has published reports that explain how governments in many countries including India have used Israeli spyware Pegasus to attack the phones of  journalists and activists.

Within such a climate of fear for journalists, it is unfortunate to find that a story in one of the world’s most powerful newspapers has helped to worsen the crackdown on free press in the world's largest democracy.

Meer Faisal is an independent multimedia journalist based in New Delhi


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera Journalism Review’s editorial stance


More Articles

Why Journalists are Speaking out Against Western Media Bias in Reporting on Israel-Palestine

Over 1500 journalists from various US news organizations have signed an open letter criticizing the Western media's coverage of Israel's actions against Palestinians. They accuse newsrooms of dehumanizing rhetoric, bias, and the use of inflammatory language that reinforces stereotypes, lack of context, misinformation, biased language, and the focus on certain perspectives while diminishing others. They call for more accurate and critical coverage, the use of well-defined terms like "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing," and the inclusion of Palestinian voices in reporting.

Belle de Jong journalist
Belle de Jong Published on: 26 Feb, 2024
Silenced Voices and Digital Resilience: The Case of Quds Network

Unrecognized journalists in conflict zones face serious risks to their safety and lack of support. The Quds Network, a Palestinian media outlet, has been targeted and censored, but they continue to report on the ground in Gaza. Recognition and support for independent journalists are crucial.

Yousef Abu Watfe يوسف أبو وطفة
Yousef Abu Watfeh Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Artificial Intelligence's Potentials and Challenges in the African Media Landscape

How has the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence impacted newsroom operations, job security and regulation in the African media landscape? And how are journalists in Africa adapting to these changes?

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 18 Feb, 2024
Media Monopoly in Brazil: How Dominant Media Houses Control the Narrative and Stifle Criticism of Israel

An in-depth analysis exploring the concentration of media ownership in Brazil by large companies, and how this shapes public and political narratives, particularly by suppressing criticism of Israel.

Al Jazeera Logo
Rita Freire & Ahmad Al Zobi Published on: 1 Feb, 2024
The Perils of Unverified News: A Case of Nonexistent Flotillas

Can you hide one thousand ships in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea? I would say not. But some of my fellow journalists seem to believe in magic.  

Ilya U Topper Published on: 16 Jan, 2024
In the Courtroom and Beyond: Covering South Africa's Historic Legal Case Against Israel at The Hague

As South Africa takes on Israel at the International Court of Justice, the role of journalists in covering this landmark case becomes more crucial than ever. Their insights and reporting bring the complexities of international law to a global audience.

Hala Ahed
Hala Ahed Published on: 12 Jan, 2024
Did the NYTimes Manipulate the Sexual Violence Allegations of October 7?

An in-depth examination of the New York Times's investigation of alleged sexual assaults by Hamas during the Israeli war on Gaza, highlighting ethical concerns, and the impact of its reporting on the victims' families. It questions the journalistic integrity of the Times, especially in the context of Western media's portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A picture of the Al Jazeera Media Institute's logo, on a white background.
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Published on: 7 Jan, 2024
Is The New York Times Reproducing Allegations of 'Sexual Violence' to Downplay Israeli Crimes?

The New York Times' report on alleged sexual violence by Palestinian militants raises profound concerns about discrepancies in key testimonies and a biased reporting that aligns with Israeli narratives and downplays Israeli crimes in Gaza.

Mohammad Zeidan
Mohammad Zeidan Published on: 31 Dec, 2023
Embedded journalism: Striking a balance between access and impartiality in war zones

The ethical implications of embedded journalism, particularly in the Israeli invasion of Gaza, raise concerns about the compromise of balance and independence in war coverage.

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 19 Dec, 2023
Through a Mexican lens: Navigating the intricacies of reporting in Palestine

A Mexican journalist's journey through the complexities of reporting on Palestine and gives tips on how to manage this kind of coverage.

Témoris Grecko
Témoris Grecko Published on: 10 Dec, 2023
Echos of Israeli Discourse in Latin American Media on Gaza

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 Nov, 2023
Critique of German media's handling of Gaza Conflict

The German media's coverage of the Gaza conflict has been criticized for being biased, presenting a distorted view of the conflict, focusing only on the Israeli perspective, and downplaying the suffering of Palestinians. This biased reporting undermines the media's role as an objective source of information and fails to provide a balanced view of the conflict.

AJR Contributor Published on: 16 Nov, 2023
Colonial legacy of surveillance: hidden world of surveillance technology in the African continent

African nations’ expenditure on surveillance technology from China, Europe and the US is a direct threat to the media, democracy and freedom of speech, and an enduring legacy of colonial surveillance practices.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 14 Nov, 2023
Journalists feel the pain, but the story of Gaza must be told  

People don’t always want to hear the historical context behind horrifying events, resorting even to censorship, but the media must be free to provide it

Aidan White Published on: 30 Oct, 2023
Queen Rania is absolutely right - Western media’s double standards on Gaza

Why does international media use loaded and dehumanising language about the Palestinians when reporting on the Israeli bombardment of 2.2 million people in Gaza?

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 27 Oct, 2023
'War propaganda' - Brazil’s media has abandoned journalistic standards over Gaza

Brazil’s mainstream media, in its unwavering support for Israel, is out of step with public and social media responses to the bombardment of Gaza

Bruno Lima Rocha Beaklini Published on: 25 Oct, 2023
‘Emotional truth’ is not a cover for fabricating stories

Comedians who engage with the news should not be free to ignore the rules of ethical journalism

Akanksha Singh Published on: 16 Oct, 2023
Get this straight, Western media: Palestinians aren’t sub-human

Dehumanisation of Palestinians is as central to Israel’s war strategy as the deadly missiles it wields

Andrew Mitrovica Published on: 10 Oct, 2023
Victims of the Mediterranean: ‘Migrants’ or ‘Refugees’?

The term ‘migrant’ insufficient to describe victims of the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea; it dehumanises these people and is a failure of journalism

A picture of the author, Mohammad Ahdad.
Mohammad Ahdad Published on: 2 Oct, 2023
Why is a Western news organisation funding propaganda in India?

ANI, the world’s largest source of Indian news, receives funding from Thomson-Reuters, despite widespread condemnation for its misinformation about Muslims

Morley Musick Published on: 18 Sep, 2023
How do we determine 'newsworthiness' in the digital age?

The relentless flow of news in the digital age has re-shaped the parameters by which we decide what is 'news' and what is not

Muhammad Khamaiseh Published on: 11 Sep, 2023
‘Focus on the story, not the storyteller’ - the dilemma of a diaspora journalist

When reporting on their homelands, diaspora journalists walk a fine line between emotional connection and objective storytelling

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 4 Sep, 2023
Why does Arab media fail so badly at covering refugee issues?

Arabic media discourse on refugees and migrants frequently aligns too closely with the Western narrative, often spreading fear of migrants while emphasising the burdens of asylum

A picture of the author, Ahmad Abu Hamad
Ahmad Abu Hamad Published on: 28 Aug, 2023
What does Zimbabwe’s new ‘Patriot Bill’ mean for journalists?  

As Zimbabwe heads into elections this week, a new law dubbed the ‘Patriot Bill’ will further criminalise journalism

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 21 Aug, 2023