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Centre decision to let CBI raid NDTV's Prannoy Roy's home find many critics, few supporters

On Monday, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the house of NDTV's co-founders Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy after registering an FIR for causing an alleged loss of Rs 48 crore to ICICI Bank in a loan resettlement in 2009 and concealing from the SEBI and stock exchanges the pledging of shares for the loan.

The Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre has been criticised for a "concerted effort" to target a section of liberal media in the country, in a bid to silence the critics of the government. These are the allegations. In the first statement released by NDTV soon after the raids were conducted, the channel tore into the Centre for conducting a "witch hunt". Dubbing the raids "shocking", NDTV said that the raids were blatant attempt to "undermine democracy and free speech in India."

While NDTV dug in its heels and stood its ground,  immense support poured in from various corners. Media houses, eminent media personalities and even political parties backed the channel and the founders and said that the raids were shocking and the attack on freedom of press was condemnable. However, there was a quarter which claimed that the CBI raid was long overdue.

File image of NDTV co-founder Prannoy Roy. PTI

File image of NDTV co-founder Prannoy Roy. PTI

Writing for The New Indian Express, editor for the Tughlak Magazine S Gurumurthy, lauded CBI for the raids and congratulated the Modi government on acting against the channel and their "fraud and deceit". Gurumurthy, in his article, quoted emails from 2008, which were obtained by the Income Tax authorities, which he claims "shows how the Roys and the other directors of NDTV were struggling to camouflage the huge monies received, not knowing how to camouflage the funds before the tax authorities."

Quoting one such email by a Vivek Mehta from PricewaterhouseCoopers, dated 22 May, 2008: "Subject: Press Announcements etc. Dear Pronnoy & all above. Now that we are reaching the conclusion I wanted to remind everybody that all press releases… stock exchange releases etc etc both by NDTV & NBCU should be whetted by us. We must ensure that what is stated is that NBCU is subscribing for a sum of & 150 m in NDTV Networks group company Overseas for an effective 26 percent stake. We must not mention that NDTV is receiving the 150 m as dividend or otherwise. If asked a question what will the money be used for??? We need to decide how to answer this question carefully. Thanks Vivek".

Gurumurthy's editorial in The New Indian Express alleges that around 2004, NDTV was languishing with huge cash loss. However, its fortunes soared ever since the UPA government came to power as, the article points out, it received funds through a host of shell companies floated by the channel after 2004.

Incidentally, most of the editorials slammed the government for the raids rather than siding with it. The Wire, in one such editorial says:

"Whichever way one looks at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids conducted on the NDTV offices and the residence of its promoters, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that vendetta has been a guiding motive behind them. This is not the first time that a government has sought to muzzle adversarial media in this crude fashion, threatening the basic constitutional guarantee of free speech upon which our democracy rests.

Likening the situation to that of Emergency in the mid-1970s, the editorial went on to add that the Modi Cabinet is ironically dominated by those leaders and "warriors" who are currently trying the muzzle the freedom of the press.

"Without going into the merits of the CBI case at this stage, some prima facie observations can be made. The CBI FIR, self-admittedly based on a petition of a disgruntled former consultant, alleges that NDTV did not fully repay a loan taken from ICICI Bank, thereby causing a loss of Rs 48 crore to the bank. What is most puzzling is ICICI, a private bank, has lodged no such complaint and NDTV, in its rebuttal to the CBI FIR, has released a letter from ICICI saying all dues were fully paid. The question that then arises is why the CBI is so interested in a deal between a private firm (NDTV) and a private bank (ICICI), especially at a time when about Rs 10 lakh crore of debt remains overdue to public sector banks from a dozen large corporate groups who have worked the system for years and postponed loan repayments. Something is clearly amiss here."

Firstpost's Ajay Kumar argues on similar angles in his article. This piece, however, also mentions the fact that the raid was "vendetta politics", since senior journalist and NDTV anchor Nidhi Razdan asked BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra to leave her show 'Left, Right and Centre', after the minister alleged that the channel always had an agenda against the ruling party.

"The FIR reproduced the complaint verbatim filed by Quantum Securities Ltd. The complaint is dated 28 April 2017, however, date of the registration of the FIR is 2 June, 2017 and there appears to be nothing more in the FIR apart from the complaint and it's annexures. 1 June, 2017 is a day after NDTV's Anchor Nidhi Razdan asked BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra to leave her programme after he accused her channel of having "an agenda" on air."

In his piece, Kumar goes on to say that CBI had no business raiding the premises as "in this present complaint... relate to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992, Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 do not fall within it's ambit. The CBI has limited jurisdiction in terms of the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act, 1946. It can only investigate offences under the IPC and and under laws that have been notified under Section 3 of that that act. Except the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 none of the other charges in the complaint relate to matters which are within the jurisdiction or remit of the CBI."

International media could not overlook the developments either. Calling NDTV "one of the few liberal-leaning media outlets in India", The Guardian said that "India has a vibrant and diverse media environment but the watchdog group Freedom House ranks the country’s press as only "partly free", citing onerous defamation laws and frequent physical threats and intimidation faced by journalists, particularly those who report in regional languages."

BBC, too, reporting on the same issue noted that "Modi's government has also been accused of cold-shouldering news organisations which criticise its policies."

Updated Date: Jun 07, 2017 10:47 AM

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