The CBI on Monday raided the residences and offices of NDTV promoters Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika Roy. The channel called the raids a “witch-hunt” and “concerted harassment of NDTV”. The Centre, however, denied any role in the CBI raids. The Editor’s Guild also hit out at the government for trying to muzzle the media.
Here is how it all unfolded:
The CBI registered a case against the Roys, a private company and others for causing monetary loss to ICICI bank by defaulting on loans. Searches were conducted at four locations including in Delhi and Dehradun. The company in question is RRPR Holdings founded by the Roys. The bank reportedly suffered a loss of Rs. 48 crore.
On Monday, NDTV released a statement hitting out at the CBI. “This morning, the CBI stepped up the concerted harassment of NDTV and its promoters based on the same old endless false accusations. NDTV and its promoters will fight tirelessly against this witch-hunt by multiple agencies. We will not succumb to these attempts to blatantly undermine democracy and free speech in India. We have one message to those who are trying to destroy the institutions of India and everything it stands for: we will fight for our country and overcome these forces,” the channel said.
Responding to the raids, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters that this was not a case of witch-hunting and that the law would take its own course. “This government doesn’t believe in interfering. They (CBI) must have some information, that’s why they might have taken steps. Law is taking its own course, there is no witch-hunting at all,” Naidu said.
“If somebody does something wrong, simply because they belong to media, you cannot expect the government to keep quiet. We have one message to those who are trying to destroy the institutions of India and everything it stands for: we will fight for our country and overcome these forces.” Naidu added. The Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore
The Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore also rubbished the allegations of political interference and purported attempts to gag the media. He said that this government is “committed to protecting the freedom of expression and freedom of the press”. He added that the government will ensure that the law of the land prevails.
The Congress party came out in support of the channel. Condemning the raids against the Roys, senior party leader Ajay Maken, at a press conference at the AICC HQs in Delhi, said: “We feel it is an assault on media freedom and attack on the fourth pillar of the democracy…This is also an attempt to create an atmosphere of fear and terror among media houses.”
Questioning the CBI over their inaction against major defaulters, Maken said that there is an attempt to create an atmosphere of fear among media houses. “The BJP and the Central government should say how many private defaulters were raided like this….Vijay Mallya, who defaulted over Rs 9,000 crore, is sitting in London and watching the Champions Trophy. There is no action against them. He was allowed to leave the country. And on the other hand, there is an attempt to create an atmosphere of fear among media houses,” he said.
The channel released an updated statement in the evening in which it said that:
“Sources confirm that under pressure, the CBI has been compelled to file an FIR based on a shoddy complaint by a disgruntled former consultant at NDTV called Sanjay Dutt… The allegation appears to be for a loan which has been repaid by Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy more than seven years ago.” (The channel attached a document purportedly from ICICI Bank showing the loan owed to ICICI had been repaid in full.)
“…The CBI has chosen not only to register an FIR, but also conduct a search for a loan which has been duly repaid to ICICI Bank. Moreover, ICICI is a private bank.It is clearly the independence and fearlessness of NDTV’s team that the ruling party’s politicians cannot stomach and the CBI raid is merely another attempt at silencing the media. No matter how much the politicians attack us – We will not give up the fight for freedom and the independence of media in India.”
NDTV Managing Editor Sreenivasan Jain tweeted: “Message is clear: any independent voices in media will be bullied and shut down. Black day.” Meanwhile, NDTV’s Editorial Director Sonia Singh tweeted: “Stand fully with Prannoy & Radhika Roy,the most honest,decent & courageous people I know. We will not be cowed down by false charges.” Executive Editor Nidhi Razdan said on Twitter: “A message to those in the media who are still independent and do their job by fearlessly asking questions. We won’t be intimidated.”
“One of the most popular faces on NDTV senior journalist Ravish Kumar did a stinging episode on his ‘Prime Time’ news show on NDTV India. The episode titled ‘Delhi: The fear capital’ spoke about how authoritarian governments were trying to gag, take over, threaten or influence global media, media houses and those who question the government.
Taking a dig at a section of the Indian media, Ravish quoted former US President Barack Obama’s parting speech to White House correspondents, where he said: “You are not supposed to be sycophants… you are supposed to be skeptics.”
Citing examples of authoritarian regimes in the past, and how leaders and journalists stood up against them, Ravish called upon the public to stand up against the government. He said that in Delhi, there are two kinds of journalists left — those who are fearful and the ones who are being threatened. The fearful are either being paid handsomely for being afraid or they are getting fear in exchange of fear.
He even shared a post on his Facebook page, challenging the prime minister to sit across the table with them with a live camera. “Scare us, threaten us, put all institutions including Income Tax department at work. Look, we are already trembling with fear. Get your trolls on Social Media to start a defamation campaign against us. However, at a time when many media houses are playing in your lap (Godi Media), there’s one such media house that refuses to do so. Your success is that people will sing songs of how thousands of Indian media houses played in your lap. NDTV isn’t an overnight phenomenon, even they know that. If you are so eager to finish us, then Sir, someday, let’s sit across each other. We’ll be there, you’ll be there and so will be a Live Camera,” he said.
The Editor’s Guild of India also stood by NDTV. In a statement, the guild said: “Entry of police and other agencies into the media offices is a serious matter.” It said that no individual was above the law but it condemned “any attempt to muzzle the media and called upon the CBI to follow the due process of law and ensure that there is no interference in the free functioning of news operations.”