“This coexistence to my mind is an astounding principle unless it is very strictly limited. The question is: Can communism and free democracy work together? Can they live together? Is it possible to hope that there will not be a conflict between them? The theory, at any rate, seems to me utterly absurd, for communism is like a forest fire; it goes on burning and consuming anything and everything that comes in its way. It is quite possible that countries which are far distant from the centre of communism may feel safe that the forest fire may be extinguished before it reaches them, or it may be that the fire may never reach them. But what about the countries which are living in the vicinity of this forest fire?” –Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 15 (Sections I to VIII), Govt. of Maharashtra, 1997, p. 878
The Communist-leaning portal NewsClick has been under the scanner at least since 2021 when reports of the controversial news portal receiving the amount of Rs 38 crores from the Chinese Communist Party (in the 2018-21 period) came to the fore. In August this year, New York Times also identified NewsClick as part of a global network receiving funds routed through one Nevile Roy Singham, who is an American of Sri Lankan origin and works for the propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party. Finally, the investigation and due legal processes resulted in raids and the Editor’s arrest. Suddenly, the echo system erupted in unison with the usual rambles of media and free speech in danger while justifying the Chinese funding received by the platform. While doing so, they conveniently avoided critical questions associated with the case, which is part of an extensive network for democratic subversion.
It has been a fashion to declare oneself an ‘independent’ media organisation, even if Communist-leaning publications and journalists run it. The prerogative of certifying someone as independent, eminent, or expert is also vested in the same group. They brand voices not toeing their line of stories as mouthpieces or ideologically biased or ‘Godi’ media, therefore destined to be boycotted or disregarded. NewsClick is a similar case. Despite knowing the ideological inclination of the engineer and activist-turned-journalist Prabir Purkayastha towards the extremist Communist ideology, the dominant elite of Bharatiya media gave it a pass to be another ‘independent’ media house. If the idea of NewsClick, which Purkayastha founded in 2009, was so great, why didn’t the news content click earlier? What changed suddenly from 2018 onwards, the period of investigation that the company’s fortune suddenly changed once it reincarnated with a new avatar called Ppk Newsclick Studio Private Limited? What kind of ‘export of services’ NewsClick did that funds started flowing for the venture from the three different sources in the United States, which was further passed on to Gautam Navlakha, the Urban Naxal under the scanner in the Elgar Parishad case? Contributors and service providers, including electricians, started getting disproportionate amounts for their services. Was it philanthropy or something else?
Media always asks questions about paid news, and the same echosystem coined the term ‘yellow journalism’ to denounce content, especially during the elections. Shouldn’t media houses themselves be accountable if they peddle certain narratives and talking points against monetary ‘investments’ from the Chinese Communist Party? Can they shrug off the issue as ‘not a crime to receive money from China’?
The investigations in the United States Justice Department have revealed, time and again, that the Communist regime in China has been trying to subvert democracies across the globe and effectively using media intervention for propaganda. According to the Justice Department report, CCP has spent $ 11,002,628 on advertising in US newspapers and another $265,822 on advertising with Twitter through China Daily and other means. Besides their official media arms, the CCP localises content to influence the issues, policy decisions and electoral outcomes. In Africa, floating media and entertainment outlets for favourable content to the Chinese policies is a well-known fact. The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department (CPD) and United Front Work Department (UFWD) oversee this information manipulation, which was a monopoly of the US at one point. The Communist regime also circumscribes censorship by influencing social media platforms and data harvesting. Not investigating this extended authoritarianism abroad, a hallmark of a Communist regime, is the biggest threat to democracy.
Whoever is trying to cover up this investigation in the name of ‘free speech’ is the biggest enemy of media freedom. NewsClick and the gang associated with it should get a chance to present their side, which happened earlier in the court of law. While doing so, self-certified media liberals should not defend treason in the name of free speech as ‘communism and free democracy cannot work together’.