On 7 June, The New York Times published a scathing editorial about the NDTV raids, titled 'India’s Battered Free Press'.
The article opines about the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) carrying out searches at the residence of NDTV founder Prannoy Roy for allegedly concealing a share transaction from SEBI and causing a loss to a private bank, a move termed by the channel as a "witch-hunt" based on "same old" false accusations.
CBI registered a case against RRPR Holding Pvt Limited, Roy, his wife Radhika, and unidentified officials of ICICI Bank for criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption.
According to the Financial Express, RRPR Holdings Private Limited is the holding company of NDTV — named after Radhika and Prannoy Roy — and was created to fund buying the shares that minority shareholders wanted to sell.
To these developments, NYT claims that freedom of the press in India suffered a "fresh blow", and that the raids "mark an alarming new level of intimidation of India’s news media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi". It also said that they were part of a 'vendetta' against NDTV. The agreed with The Indian Express' strategic affairs editor Praveen Swami's assertions that the CBI's actions harken back to the excesses committed during the Emergency in 1975.
Today’s CBI raid on @PrannoyRoyNDTV is a defining moment: the last time this sort of thing happened was during the Emergency
— Praveen Swami (@praveenswami) June 5, 2017
The article also mentions the one-day ban on NDTV India, saying that, "Last year, its Hindi-language station was ordered off the air for a day as punishment for reporting on a sensitive attack on an air base, but it stood by its reporting, insisting that it was based on official briefings."
The piece refers to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry asking NDTV India to be taken off air for a day on 9 November, in what would be the first order against a broadcaster over its coverage of terror attacks.
The strongest point the editorial made was the rhetoric at the end of the piece, which says, "Central Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday that it 'fully respects the freedom of the press'. Even if that’s true, the question still outstanding is whether Mr Modi does."
Clearly, The New York Times is unabashed in its view that these raids were a blatant political attack, something that was also stated by NDTV in their official statement.
The indignant opinion was followed by a letter to the editor on 15 June, by RK Gaur, press information officer and spokesman for the CBI. The letter, which is perhaps just as scathing as the editorial itself, begins by attacking the statement that the raids were vendetta against the news broadcasting channel. It calls the piece "one-sided" and adds that it "doesn’t consider the investigation history of the case against RRPR Holdings by different tax and law enforcement agencies in India since 2011".
It also goes on to chronicle CBI's current investigations, saying that the investigative agency is looking into "over 100 criminal cases worth a total loan default of over $5 billion. Many of the leading loan defaulters are behind bars, their assets attached, and prosecutions are being pursued vigorously in the courts". It asserted that ICICI bank's loss was merely the "tip of the iceberg". It adds that there are enquiries on RRPR Holdings for mobilisation of funds used for loan repayment and 'serious' tax payment defaults as well.
With regards to the NDTV India one-day ban, the letter says, "No democracy can allow the country’s security and public safety to be compromised by irresponsible reporting of terrorist incidents."
Staying mum on the Modi rhetoric that the editorial mentions, Gaur said in the letter: "India has a robust and independent judiciary that strongly protects democratic freedom and that an aggrieved person can always approach."
The CBI's letter ends on a dismissive note, saying that, "India does not require any lesson on freedom of the press from The Times."
The New York Times isn't the only news organisation overseas that has been critical about the raids. The Washington Post also shared a report expressing concern about press freedom being under threat. Pen America's editorial said the raid was a transparent attempt to silence critics of the Indian government. Asia Times also echoed the concerns about media freedom in a piece.
Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 17:41 PM