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CBI raids NDTV's Prannoy Roy's home: Could Narendra Modi govt have engineered such an obvious misstep?

There is a general belief growing that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids on the houses of NDTV's co-founders Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy were a direct result of the dismissal of BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra by the news channel's anchor Nidhi Razdan from her show.

On the face of it, though stranger things have happened, it is a bit of a stretch. Patra is not such a heavyweight in the ruling party that within days of him being kicked off the talk show – where he had badmouthed the channel he was on – the national BJP machinery would rise to avenge the 'embarrassment'

If indeed there is evidence of a connect, then that is a dangerous portent. It would lead us to believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is dividing the media into 'them' and 'us'; if you are not with us, you are the enemy – giving credence to anchor Ravish Kumar’s words that fear walks the streets of Delhi as far as media persons are concerned.

File image of NDTV's co-founder Prannoy Roy. Image courtesy: Twitter@PrannoyRoyNDTV

File image of NDTV's co-founder Prannoy Roy. Image courtesy: Twitter@PrannoyRoyNDTV

But are we ready to accept that assessment yet? It is a quantum leap of faith or lack of it in the fourth estate's role in our democracy and before we make it a certain, introspection is necessary.

Not just necessary but vital, for if the traditional watchdog is being blindsided we have to ensure that it has no ticks.

So, it makes good sense before the media gets too huff. That we ask ourselves if we haven’t diluted our own ranks with dross. The label of 'media' is now so loosely used that we have Mr Fix-its, bagmen, third parties, intermediaries, and even agents masquerading as pressmen; using that vague membership to undue advantage, that has nothing to do with journalism.

Add to it paid hacks working in consonance with public relations people – who use every tactic possible to kill, block or rework stories – and we are compelled to admit that some of the rot resides within the media.

With so much decay in our standards over the years, we cannot seek refuge in the traditional harbour of being media. That has become an armour and a shield – a convenient excuse. If we get caught, we immediately link it to a vendetta and an interference in doing our job.

Since I haven’t read the 28-page indictment against the NDTV bosses, far be it for anyone to second guess their guilt or innocence.

It suffices to say that such raids are unnerving and a scar on the Indian media’s psyche. The fact that the press has been incredibly free for 70-odd years gets knotted with each such assault.

One of the reasons why the press (as opposed to the newfangled media) was able to withstand government pressure all these years was that its practitioners were not wealthy. This may sound absurd but their wealth was their craft and their role as keepers of the flame. That relative poverty was a saving grace.

Today, journalists have holdings and investment portfolios and engage in dealings with corporates and individuals and banks and government doles and subsidies. All of which makes them quasi-businessmen looking for business-matches, and not journalists.

In that conversion, it is conceivable that laws will be broken and compromises will be made. It is the nature of the beast. And the happy ‘untouchability’ we, the media, have bestowed upon ourselves because we are press is not integral to the law. All too often, we feel we are above its considerations.

Even for the sake of argument, if we assume that the Modi brigade is now in a vindictive mode, how does going for the top echelons of media affect him? For one, it makes him a despot and sets the whole estate against him or at least wakes them up to an Orwellian possibility – of big brother intruding on their turf. It also makes the CBI come off like his personal property.

Has Modi become so arrogant and singular that he would actually encourage such a message? On the contrary, he might have actually given NDTV a fresh lease on life – more grist for its mill and a nicely rounded halo of martyrdom.

There is just no win in it for Modi except if we see it through the prism of future suspect – that more selective chastisement will follow.

In which case, as we set up defences, let the media also do some housecleaning and weed out the white ants and weevils from its cupboard.

That act of pest control will make for stronger woodwork.

Updated Date: Jun 07, 2017 13:52 PM

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