Image: Live Law
At a time when large sections of the Indian traditional media, such as television channels and print media have succumbed to brute executive pressure as well as government handouts, a handful of independent media portals have emerged keeping the flag of independent investigative reportage and incisive comment flagging. Among these The Wire stands firm and tall.
Lest we forget The Wire’s unique contribution, Sabrangindia has put together this crucial listicle. Coming a day after the Delhi Police’s Multi city raids and seizures on this platform we believe this is crucial as a mark of solidarity.
Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and MK Venu founded The Wire in 2015 amidst a new political atmosphere when independent journalism was the need of the hour. Over the years this news portal has won accolades for its work owing its brave and courageous journalism.
In the many instances of The Wire’s firebrand journalism and stories that dig deep include its coverage of Uttar Pradesh government’s COVID response during the second wave, its coverage of the Rafale deal controversy involving Reliance Infrastructure, story on PSUs investing in Adani’s LNG projects as well as rise of Jay Shah and his businesses since BJP came to power.
In January 2021, the UP Police registered an FIR against The Wire for publishing a story on the claims made by the family of Navreet Singh, the farmer who died during the tractor rally on Republic Day. Police forces in various BJP-ruled states had registered cases against journalists who reported on the farmers’ rally that was carried out on Republic day as a mark of protest against the three controversial farm laws (the laws were later withdrawn by the government).
The story had carried allegations made by the deceased farmer’s grandfather that a doctor had informed the family at the time of the autopsy that Singh died due to a bullet wound as against the claims made in the post mortem report that he died due to a head injury due to falling off the tractor.
The Pegasus reveal
The biggest reveal of 2021 was the ‘Pegasus’ story. A deadly software developed by Isreal’s NSO group sold only to vetted governments allowing them to effectively take remote control of a smartphone and all its contents and functions, once deployed. The Wire was one of the members of the international media consortium known as the ‘Pegasus Project’ which had many seasoned journalists who had been covering NSO Group and tracking the use of Pegasus around the world for years. The Wire claimed that the ruling government was clearly involved in deploying Pegasus in the phones of journalists to political opponents, ministers, businessmen and human rights defenders to a dissident Election Commissioner and a young woman who alleged she had been sexually harassed by a sitting chief justice of India since no foreign agency could possibly be interested in all of these individuals. Also, NSO said it only sells Pegasus to “vetted governments”, it did not deny selling Pegasus to India and the Modi government did not deny using it.
In February this year, a district court in Telangana ordered The Wire to take down 14 articles it had published about Bharat Biotech manufactured Covaxin. In the Rs 100 crore defamamtion suit filed by the company, the court wanted to prevent ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among the masses which could be the result of the “false stories”. The articles in question have not been made public since the matter is sub judice, however, Siddharth Vardarajan had said that the court passed the order without hearing the organisation’s arguments, without serving any notice.
IN April 2018, The Wire published an article titled ‘In Selling Firm to Piramal Group as Minister, Piyush Goyal Pushes Ethical Boundaries’ in which it was stated that When Goyal was Minister of Power, he sold the entire stock of a privately held company he and his wife owned, at nearly 1000 times the face value, to a group firm owned by Ajay Piramal – a billionaire with substantial interests in the infrastructure sector including power and this sale was not reflected in the mandatory statement of assets and liabilities he made with the Prime Minister’s Office in 2014 and 2015 as a minister in the government.
Rafale Deal Controversy
The Wire, in 2018, had conducted a discussion on whether the process by which the Modi government acquired 36 Rafale jets was transparent in nature. The speakers discussed how the deal changed at the eleventh hour and whether Reliance Infrastructure’s track record was taken into consideration by Dassault when it chose the company as an offset partner.
Reliance Infrastructure filed a defamation case against the portal for this video which was later withdrawn in 2019.
The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah
The article published in October 2017, highlighted that “The turnover of a company owned by Jay Amitbhai Shah, son of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Shah, increased 16,000 times over in the year following the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister and the elevation of his father to the post of party president…”
Following this, Jay Shah had filed a defamation case against the portal which is pending before the Supreme Court.
Taking on the Adani Group
In November 2017, The Wire published an article ‘Does It Make Economic Sense for IOC and Gail India to Invest in Adani’s LNG Terminals?’ in which it questioned the decision of state-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Gail India to invest in its LNG projects of Odisha and Gujarat. The article stated, “While investors have given a thumbs-down to the deals as they would add to the PSUs’ loan burden, they will likely help the heavily-indebted Adani group secure bank loans and make future investments.”
The Adani Group filed a defamation suit in this regard however, the same was withdrawn in May 2019.
The Wire had also re-published an article by former Economic and Political Weekly editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta claiming that the Centre had amended Special Economic Zone rules to facilitate duty reimbursements for raw materials to Adani Power Limited, leading to a benefit of Rs 500 crores. The article titled ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group’ It alleged the company had falsely claimed this reimbursement without actually paying the duty in the first place. This article was also included in a defamation suit, which was withdrawn unconditionally in May 2019.
ICICI Insurance Scam
In December 2017, The Wire did a detailed story revealing the modus operandi of how ICICI bank duped its customers including farmers, labourers and senior citizens from rural areas of southern Rajasthan, including beneficiaries of central government schemes like the Kisan Credit Card and MGNREGA into buying insurance policies with huge recurring annual premiums.
Sand mining Mafia of Tamil Nadu
In 2017, a Chennai based senior journalist, Sandhya Ravishankar, had published in The Wire a four-part investigative journalism series on Tamil Nadu’s sand mafia documenting the illegal sand mining, political collusion, and methods used to suppress competition in the south. IN march, she filed a complaint that she was being constantly harassed by supporters of S. Vaikundarajan, owner of the largest sand mining conglomerate in the country, who is mentioned extensively in the articles.
Apart from its investigative journalism and brave reportage of important news that mainstream media tucks in a corner, The Wire has also published some exceptional opinion pieces, to name a few, the ones by former Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur questioning Supreme Court’s suspension of Bombay High Court’s decision to discharge Prof GN Saibaba as well as the one questioning Supreme Court’s judgement that led to Teesta Setalvad’s arrest. Also, the heartfelt letter written by Umar Khalid from prison, who remains incarcerated till date for charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The powerful insights of renowned journalist P Sainath pointing out exclusion of citizen’s rights to legal recourse in any law allowing the government to act ‘in good faith’ while granting it immunity from court proceedings.
Accolades and Recognition
Over the years, several journalists working with The Wire have won accolades for their reportage.
This includes the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards, in the Government and Politics category awarded to Dheeraj Mishra and Seemi Pasha. Dheeraj Mishra’s report focused on MPs’ unusually high expenses while travelling, for which he filed several RTIs to gather data and Seemi Pasha’s video delved into Jamia Nagar, which in late 2019, developed into a neighbourhood attracting communal hatred from those opposed to the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
In June this year, Ismat Ara won the Human Rights and Religious Freedom Young Journalist of the Year Award announced by the Indian American Muslim Council, an advocacy group based in Washington, United States.
Priyanka Pulla and Mahtab Alam won the Mumbai Press Club’s RedInk Awards 2021 for articles that were published by The Wire. While Pulla won in the category ‘Health & Wellness (Print)’ for a story titled ‘India Is Undercounting Its COVID-19 Deaths. This Is How.’, Alam was declared a joint-winner in the ‘Arts’ category for his tribute to actor Tom Alter titled ‘The ‘Angrez’ Who Wrote His Memoir in Urdu’.
In 2020, Sukanya Shantha won the ACJ Journalism Award for social impact journalism for her report “From Segregation to Labour, Manu’s Caste Law Governs the Indian Prison System” which examined caste-based discrimination within prison systems and how labour within the prison is, according to prison manuals, assigned on the basis of caste. She also won the Fetisov Journalism Award for contribution to civil rights for the same reportage.
In 2020, Siddharth Varadarajan was presented the Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech Award.
In 2019, Arfa Khanum Sherwani and Faiyaz Ahmad Wajeeh won the Red Ink awards in the Politics and Arts category, respectively. While Sherwani won in the Politics (TV) category for her interview with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of The Art of Living foundation, Wajeeh was declared winner of the Arts (TV) category for his video on a bookstore that brought together Urdu’s literary greats. Sherwani’s interview with Ravi Shankar was on his comments on the Ayodhya land dispute case in March 2018, when he said if the Ram mandir issue is not resolved “we will have a Syria in India”.
In 2018, Siddharth Varadarajan won the Shorenstein Journalism Award given annually by Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center which honours journalists who have “produced outstanding reporting on Asia and contributed significantly to Western understanding of the region”.
In 2017, Neha Dixit won the CPJ International Press Freedom Award for her reportage on extrajudicial killings and illegal detentions. In 2016 she also won the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Mediapersons
The Wire has won the 2021 Free Media Pioneer Award given by the International Press Institute (IPI) to recognise media organisations that are innovating for better journalism and news access, or working to ensure freer and more independent media in their country or region.
In 2016, The Wire was presented with the ‘Start-up of the Year’ award at the RedInk journalism awards instituted by the Press Club, Mumbai
A story published in the Columbia Journalism Review in late 2016 identified The Wire as one of several independent internet-based media platforms that were attempting to challenge the dominance of India’s traditional print and television news companies and their online offshoots.