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The Wire (India)

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The Wire
Wirelogo.svg
Type of site
Journalism, news, analysis
Available inEnglish, Hindi, Marathi, Urdu
HeadquartersFirst Floor, 13 Shaheed Bhagat Singh Marg
Gole Market
New Delhi, DL 110001
India
OwnerFoundation for Independent Journalism (FIJ)
EditorSiddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and M. K. Venu
URLthewire.in
CommercialNo
LaunchedMay 11, 2015; 7 years ago (2015-05-11)

The Wire is an Indian nonprofit news and opinion website which publishes in English, Hindi, Marathi, and Urdu.[1] It was founded in 2015 by Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, and M. K. Venu and is organized as a nonprofit organization named the Foundation for Independent Journalism.[2][3]

The publication's reporters have won several national and international awards, including three Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards[4][5] and the CPJ International Press Freedom Award.[6] The website has been subject to several defamation suits by businessmen and politicians, some of which have been described as strategic lawsuits against public participation.[7][8][9]

History

Siddharth Varadarajan resigned from his position as editor at The Hindu citing the return of the editorship of the paper to being family run in 2013.[10] On 11 May 2015, The Wire was started by Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and M. K. Venu who had initially funded the website. Later, it was made part of the Foundation for Independent Journalism, a non-profit Indian company.[3][11] The Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation[12] has provided The Wire with funding as well.[3]

Varadarajan claims that the publication was created as a "platform for independent journalism",[13] and that its non-corporate structure and funding sources aim to free it from the "commercial and political pressures" that supposedly afflict mainstream Indian news outlets.[13][1][14] The Wire's founding is construed to be a result of, and reaction to, a political environment that has "discouraged dissent" against the present Indian ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.[1]

Content

According to a 2017 article of the Mint, the websites coverage primarily focused on the topics of development, foreign policy, political economy, politics and science.[13]

Karan Thapar's regular show The Interview with Karan Thapar covers current affairs and events on The Wire.[15][16]

Investigative reports

Tek Fog

In 2022, The Wire reported about Tek Fog, an application software used by the information technology cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party as part of their social media campaigning to spread propaganda.[17] The Tek Fog app was used by BJP "to artificially inflate the popularity of the party, harass its critics and manipulate public perceptions at scale across major social media platforms.".[18][19][17][20]

Tek Fog was used to manage inauthentic accounts en masse on social media. Tek Fog was capable of hacking inactive WhatsApp accounts en masse in order to mass message their contacts with propaganda messages, while impersonating the account owner. According to The Wire, a whistleblower with app access was able to hack a test WhatsApp account controlled by reporters "within minutes."

An investigation by The Wire found that Bharatiya Janata Party, Persistent Systems and ShareChat were involved in the use of App. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (Youth wing of Bharatiya Janata Party) members supervised the operators and gave them ideological operation. It reported that Mohalla Tech (the owner of ShareChat) was involved in the management of Tek Fog. The whistleblower responsible for the discovery of Tek Fog was paid via Mohalla Tech as their assigned client, and ShareChat was widely exploited by Tek Fog.[18] The Wire found that Persistent Systems was involved in the production and management of Tek Fog. An internal source within Persistent System confirmed the involvement of the company, with 17,000 assets connected to Tek Fog developed by Persistent Systems.[18]

MP Derek O'Brien has called for a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs to discuss the app.[21] Congress has urged the Supreme court to ask its expert panel to investigate the app.[22] Editors Guild of India condemned "the online harassment of women journalists, which includes targeted and organised online trolling as well as threats of sexual abuse." and demanded steps to break and dismantle the "misogynistic and abusive digital eco-system" of Tek Fog.[23][24]

Reception

Three journalists, working for The Wire, have won the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards.[4][5] Neha Dixit, reporting on extrajudicial killings and illegal detentions, won the CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 2017, Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Mediapersons in 2016 and the Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize.[25][26][27][6][non-primary source needed] A story published in the Columbia Journalism Review in late 2016 identified The Wire as one of several independent and recently founded internet-based media platforms - a group that also included Newslaundry, Scroll.in, The News Minute, The Quint and ScoopWhoop - that were attempting to challenge the dominance of India's traditional print and television news companies and their online offshoots.[1]

Siddharth Vardarajan was awarded with the Shorenstein Prize in 2017; jury member of the award Nayan Chanda mentioned Vardarajan's independent web-based journalism-venture and distinguished body of well-researched reports to be an epitome of journalistic excellence and innovation.[28] A December 2019 article by Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker, noted The Wire is one of the few small outfits and the most prominent (other than The Caravan), to have engaged in providing aggressive coverage of the current Indian Govt ruled by BJP at a time when mainstream media is failing to do so.[29]

In November 2019, The Network of Women in Media, India criticised The Wire for providing a platform to Vinod Dua for making fun of an allegation of sexual harassment against him.[30]

In September 2021, The Wire received the 2021 Free Media Pioneer Award given by the International Press Institute for being 'an unflinching defender of independent, high-quality journalism'.[31]

Litigation

Reliance Infrastructure

In response to one of their video-shows covering the Rafale deal controversy, Reliance Infrastructure had lodged a defamation case in Ahmedabad civil court for a cost of 60 billion (US$790 million).[32][7] It was part of a slew of defamation cases, filed against multiple media-organisations and were widely perceived to fall under the category of strategic lawsuits against public participation.[7][8]

Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Indian Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and venture capitalist Rajeev Chandrasekhar filed a defamation suit in a Bangalore civil court, after two articles – Arnab's Republic, Modi's Ideology by Sandeep Bushan and In Whose Interests Do Our Soldiers March? by Sachin Rao – were published, suggesting that Chandrasekhar's major investments in the Indian media and defence industries represented conflicts of interest with some of his roles as a legislator.[33][34]

On 2 March 2017 the court passed an ex-parte injunction, ordering The Wire to block access to the two articles.[33][34] The Wire complied but decided to challenge the court order.[33][34] In February 2019, the court lifted the injunction and ruled in favour of The Wire, leading to reinstatement of the articles.[35][36]

Jay Shah

Amit Shah's son Jay Shah filed a criminal defamation case against the editors of The Wire for publishing an article titled 'The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah',[37] an investigative story by Rohini Singh. A BJP-led coalition had formed the government at the centre following their win in the 2014 Indian general election, and Narendra Modi had become the Prime Minister. The article alluded to possible irregularities in Jay Shah's business dealings, claiming that the turnover of a company owned by him increased 16,000 times over in the year following the election.[38][39]

Jay Shah filed the case in court 13 of the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate against four editors/reporters of The Wire. Additional chief metropolitan magistrate SK Gadhvi ordered a court inquiry into the matter under CrPC section 202 to inquire into the case to decide whether or not there is sufficient ground for a case to be filed.[40] Observing that "prima facie it seems there is a case" against The Wire for its defamatory article against Shah, a metropolitan court issued summons to the reporter of the article and editors of the website to appear before it on 13 November in the criminal defamation case filed against them. The order also mentions Shah's contention that "the news portal didn't give enough time to him to send his response, the article didn't include the loss incurred by his company in the year 2015-2016, and created confusion over the turnover to defame him."[41]

The Ahmedabad civil court on 23 December vacated the ex parte and interim injunction. The court lifted all restrictions except the use of words (after) "Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister/elected as Prime Minister." The Wire called the lifting of the injunction a "victory for The Wire", and that the "decision by the civil court is a vindication of The Wire's fundamental stand that its article had been a legitimate exercise of the freedom of expression in the public interest."[42] However, the Gujarat High court later reinstated the gag order and refused to quash the criminal defamation case filed by Jay Shah.[43] The Wire had appealed in the Supreme Court of India against this order. The Supreme Court of India asked the Gujarat trial court not to proceed till 12 April with the criminal defamation complaint.[44][45] Later, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra listed the matter to be heard on 18 April by a different bench of the Supreme Court. However, the bench had not been specified.[46]

The Wire pleaded for the withdrawal of its plea, seeking the defamation proceedings against it to be quashed. The portal said they were ready for further proceedings in the Gujarat trial Court. The Supreme Court bench allowed the withdrawal on 27 August 2019. The court remarked that, "it has become a fashion to serve notice to a person for explanation and even before it can be answered, the articles are published within five to six hours" expressing its anguish and also ordered that the trial be completed "as expeditiously as possible."[47][48]

Others

The organisation has been subject to other defamation suits—six by the Adani Group[49] and one by Ravi Shankar.[citation needed]

Adityanath government

During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Wire came under the Yogi Adityanath government's crackdown on journalists reporting on administrative failures and humanitarian crises,[50][51] a part of a pattern of escalading press freedom violations in Uttar Pradesh,[52][53] use of the Epidemics Diseases Act of 1897 to pressurise journalists,[54] and democratic backsliding in India.[51] Between April 2020 and June 2021, four separate FIRs alleging false information were lodged by the Uttar Pradesh Police against various journalists working for the news outlet, including against one of its founding editors.[55] According to Reporters sans frontieres, the cases had no tangible evidence and amounted to harassment through litigation.[56] In September 2021, the Supreme Court of India responding to a petition against the FIRs, extended a 2 month protection from arrest to the journalists at The Wire over press freedom concerns but declined to quash them, instead directed the petitioners to approach the Allahabad High Court stating that it would set a bad precedent and open a floodgate of quashing petitions under Article 32, which grants the right to constitutional remedies for violation of fundamental freedoms.[57][58][59]

Bharat Biotech

In February 2022, Bharat Biotech filed a defamation lawsuit of 100 crore (US$13 million) against The Wire and its editors over 14 articles that had reported on the pharmaceutical company and Covaxin, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by it.[60][61] The defamation suit also named all those who had contributed to the articles which included several journalists and medical professionals.[61] The lawsuit was filed at a local district court in Rangareddy, Telangana where an additional district judge passed an ex-parte injunction, a restraining order directing the news publication to take down its articles within the next 48 hours.[62] The editor-in-chief of The Wire stated that they would challenge the legality of the order as no notice was served to them and the organisation was not given an opportunity to defend itself against Bharat Biotech's allegations. The court said that the articles published by The Wire would lead to vaccine hesitancy.[63]

References

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  4. ^ a b "Awards 2017". Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards, Ramnath Goenka Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Awards 2016". Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards, Ramnath Goenka Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
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  8. ^ a b Lalwani, Vijayta (25 November 2018). "Anil Ambani's defamation blitz: 28 cases filed by Reliance Group in Ahmedabad courts this year". Scroll.in. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  9. ^ Mishra, Neeraj (21 October 2017). "Civil and Criminal Defamation Suits: The Chilling Effect". India Legal. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
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External links