Culture

An Undisguised Assault on Media Freedom

The government is seeking to muzzle media that is critical of the regime.

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. When the Congress party had imposed an Emergency in the mid 1970s, petty violations of one kind or the other were cited to intimidate the free press. It was resisted with full force by both the media and political activists inspired by the Jayaprakash Narayan movement then.

Alas, and here’s the irony, some of those very erstwhile warriors of media freedom dominate the present regime, which shows no compunction in conducting such egregious raids on NDTV, which is not only the country’s oldest news channel but one which has, without doubt, contributed significantly to the growth and evolution of the Indian news television industry.  Shockingly, the CBI’s raids were conducted on the pretext that NDTV had caused a loss to a private bank – ICICI – by not fully repaying a loan of about Rs 375 crore.

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.

NDTV had said in its official statement that the “CBI FIR is based on a shoddy complaint by a former disgruntled consultant…who has been making false allegations and filing court cases all these years but no court has accepted his petition”.

It is indeed astounding that the CBI should take cognisance of such a complaint that no court has accepted in the past. All the circumstances point to the fact that the government is merely seeking to muzzle NDTV, which has not particularly endeared itself to the present regime. The raids are also a warning to the rest of the media, which must stand together and resist such undisguised assaults on press freedom. It is heartening, in this context, that the Editor’s Guild of India has expressed its deep concern over the CBI raids. The Guild has condemned any attempt to muzzle the media and has sought due process of law to ensure there is no interference in the free functioning of the media.

  • Rohini

    “which shows no compunction in conducting such egregious raids on NDTV, which is not only the country’s oldest news channel but one which has, without doubt, contributed significantly to the growth and evolution of the Indian news television industry. ”

    No doubt. But, does that make it above the law?

    “Shockingly, the CBI’s raids were conducted on the pretext that NDTV had caused a loss to a private bank – ICICI – by not fully repaying a loan of about Rs 375 crore.”
    How can the Wire decide what is good enough to motivaate the raid? That;s for the CBI to decide.

    “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.”
    No matter who the complainanrt is and what their current relationship with NDTV may be, a possible crime must be investigated A crime does not become kosher because NDTV decides to label the complainant a ‘disgruntled ex-employee’ – I know that this phrase comes from an old NDTV response to the complaint that was raised by Ram Jethmalani, in conjunction with P Gurumurthy, with the then finance minister Chidambaram about the possible malfeasance in the channel, and in amny other subsequest instances.
    Have you also exposed the dirty link between the woman tax officer who did not reveal she was administering NDTV taxes while her husband worked at NDTV and she went on sponsored trips to Europe? Or the short selling of their shares to escape taxation or the murky deals with shadowy international shell companies or the loan they granted THEMSELVES?

    Come on, people…this is a simple attempt to whitewash the possible crimes of a very powerful man. Let him answer to the allegations.

  • Rohini

    Whataboutery is soo cute. I suggest that it’s best not to hero worhsip ANYONE least of all buseinessmen/women. Well, actually a LOT of fraud HAS been exposed and prosecuted – read Sahara, Satyam, etc. Also, recently, Jayalalitha and co. And we also have coal, cwg, etc etc…so it’s all happening.
    And 48 cr may be small in your bank books but not in mine. Or 400 cr as the REAL underlying scam seems to be about.

  • Rohini

    Oh well, it’s truly about HOW they repaid that loan, isn’t it? that’s why I said ‘read’..there’s a lot of material on the internet and it’s all very complicated. Not as easy-peasy as apple pie like the Wire has presented. They ARE hoping most people are duffers and will not understand issues like short selling, shell companies etc. And you are playing right into their hands.

  • Rohini

    Dear Prem, Did YOU bother to read and understand ALL the info in the public domain before mans-plaining to me. I suspect NOT.
    First of all, basics – do YOU understand that only an FIR has been filed so far that states the complaint and that no charges have yet been filed by the CBI? When and IF the chargesheet is filed, you will get a list of the crimes involved alleged. Funnily, even mainstream media has carried detailed stories about the financial allegations. Anyone who read the material and still believes there is smoke without a fire HAS to be high and happy or a blind brainwashed acolyte of an ideology.

    So, Mr. Prem, how about you get to the nitty-grity? Till then, continue being ‘happy and high’ on acolyte-hashish.

    • prem

      All very nice but the CBI’s own statement contradicts you.

      • Rohini

        I see…CBI statement – what exactly is THAT?

  • Rohini

    It’s clear you have neither the time not the brains to understand the details of the financial transactions involved. I cannot help that. But..

    The facts are out there in the form of govt filings, emails, documents etc. So, all I say is…there is no smoke without a fire. Let them answer and if they are innocent, then, the CBI and by extn the BJP, gets mud on its face.
    I think they should look at this as an opportunity to prove their innocence rather than let insinuations that have been made for a decade fester and ruin their reputation with the public.

    • Aninda

      “It’s clear you have neither the time not the brains to understand the details of the financial transactions involved”

      I don’t have to understand financial transactions. There is no nuance related to this financial transaction. Allow me to use you as a sounding board Rohini. I borrow X amount of money. I repay X amount of money + interest accrued. My loan is repaid. I’d love to hear how I’m getting this wrong.

      “See, the thing is that unlike ‘journalism’ which can ‘speculate’ about lots of things and write as they please depending on the situation and whom they are supporting, numbers don’t lie. ever.”

      1. Maybe you missed that this is an editorial. Btw, this is an editorial. Google says: A newspaper article expressing the editor’s opinion on a topical issue. Expressing opinions – crazy right?

      2. This piece isn’t about who they are supporting. This is about what they are opposing. The current government’s assault on media freedom.

      “So, all I say is…there is no smoke without a fire.”
      I’m saying there is no smoke. There is a government that is uncomfortable being questioned, possibly because they don’t have good answers. So they try to stop questions by intimidating the people asking questions.

      “I think they should look at this as an opportunity to prove their innocence rather than let insinuations that have been made for a decade fester and ruin their reputation with the public.”
      Maybe when the CBI raids your house and violates your privacy based on misinformation, try this logic again. It’ll still be bad logic – but then one can rationalise it.

      • Rohini

        You clearly have NO idea what the issue is about !. I cannot type it all out as it is too long so will refer you to some great sources for the whole picture.:
        CBI FIR (88 pages long), CBI press statement date 6 Jun 2017, The Caravan artcile called The Tempest,
        Dec 2015(long read, 10000 words) , Gurumurthy at pgurus.com and his exhaustive articles + email exchanges with Prannoy Roy, India Express article dated 6 Jun, 2017, P Gurumurthy in New Indian Express – For fraud or for Freedom, Mr. Roy on 6 Jun 2017, Book by Serr Iyer called ‘NDTV Frauds’,
        Articles in the scroll.in, articles in the financial express, and so on and so forth.
        , Madhu Kishwar’s artciles in manushi for her expose, MJ Akbar’s expose in 2010,

        good luck with the research. At least then we can converse on the same plane. Right now, I cannot engage frutifully with a person who has no info.

  • ashok759

    On a lighter note, one can never forgive NDTV for giving us Arnab Goswami.

  • Rohini

    I cannot help it if you are an acolyte-high-on-hashish…human psychology naturally makes you see everyone as a mirror of yourself. ….Get well soon. Cheers.

    • Matty

      Acolyte is what you are @disqus_iIR4OYOTAR:disqus, and that too of those hell bent on rooting out each and every voice of dissent that dares to question the establishment!!!

      And again it’s you, not @disqus_MJPvJonObo:disqus,who is perpetually high-on-hashish, given the tireless zeal with which you defend these forces and oppose the resistance!

      Don’t forget, if and when the resistance is dead, even you won’t be to voice your concerns! But it seems that’s not what you would need once the Hindu Rashtra is established!

      • Rohini

        Dear Matty, that stuff you are on is certainly stronger than hashish.
        Nothing else can explain away your mind-numbing comments!

  • Rohini

    Are you high on something? What else could explain your blatherings?

  • prem

    Yes, only the BJP and the sanghis are allowed to make sweeping generalisations. And we should all be so grateful that the modi government is not raiding thewire as well.

  • Rohini

    First, you are comparing apples and oranges but then, I am not going to try to explain that to one who cannot see it. If indeed, NDTV is innocent, well,that would be GREAT. But we see here an effort to scuttle the very attempt to question their dealings, which goes against the grain of democracy and the rule of law.

  • Rohini

    please understand that BOTH ndtv and Icici are public companies traded on the stock market. The loan given to ndtv was for a share buy back. In the deak and the mess, there have been several questionable decisions on t price per share, the use of t shares as collateral for the loan and the negotiated int rate which was much lower than the prevailing rate.
    Such transactions in public companies are NOT strictly aboveboard and WILL attract scrutiny, as they indeed should. Only the deluded or the misinformed will think these acts are not to be investigated in publicly traded and listed firm..aka ndtv.

  • delta1980

    Why is press freedom in the emergency era a benchmark here? That’s a very low standard to have.

  • Anon

    Sure, one has right to free speech.
    But one has the duty of responsible speech too.

    In case evidence comes to light, that the accusations were correct and law agencies were doing their job, then the wire and NDTV should publish an unconditional apology.

  • Rohini

    “I just love the way you vilify the victim!”

    A publicly traded company’s promoter is a ‘victim’ for being called on to answer allegations of funny money dealings?
    Do you realise that the Roys pledged ALL their promoters’ shares to ICICI for the said loan and did NOT inform SEBI about the collateral deal? This is gargantuan malfeasance….just one teeny tiny exaample in the whole saga.
    They HAVE to answer…as promotters, they have a fiduicary duty to answer and not hide behind ‘ooh, vendetta’.
    Get well soon, matty.

  • Rohini

    Well, whatever it is, it cannot be what you have in your upper storey – not only was your model a defective manufacture, it is now also past its expiry date!
    To make up, your flaky grey was coupled with a motor mouth (or keyboard finger, if you will) and endless gas.

    Cheers Matty.

  • Rohini

    I say what I want to, not what someone wants to hear, unlike you. 🙂
    Go for the vote and I wish you the best. When everything else is a bit weak and in the red, a few upvotes and suchlike can give you dutch comfort…I will root for you, Matty. May you win the vote war! 😉

    You are simply hilarious!! What’s your age again?

  • Rohini

    The thing is that the investigation into the NDTV case also began in 2008 and the man behind all the material is Gurumurthy – and he is not a lightweight in tax fraud. You may want to look him up.
    NDTV is a publicly traded firm and the malpractices alleged are serious under corporate and stock market law. The Wire has tried to misrepresent it as a ‘loan’ – it is not that simple.
    So, what I say is let the law take its course. No one is above the law. Especially the media, which questions power and are themselves powerful. They too must subject themselves to scrutiny.

  • S.N.Iyer

    The conclusion of this case could take years for CBI to have documentary proof that the settlement by the Bank was based on any fraudulent basis. Banks are always free to settle loans and debt on terms that seem fair to them.
    But the principle that is underlying this action taken by the CBI is whether the media can comment against the Govt and be accused of having an ‘agenda’, In fact the Govt should show discretion and wisdom to relook at commernts made against any policy of the Govt or an incident which the Govt seems to support. We have the now classic case of the Govt ranting and raving on the “benefits” of demonetisation repeatedly despite comments from expert economists. If this Govt honestly thinks that any criticism as being misplaced, and to get a false sense of complacency. The latest criticism of RBI’s policy is another instance of Govt refusing to accept any decision which they see as counter to their ‘agenda’.

  • Rohini

    Thank you. I actually happen to have read ALL the pages of the FIR. All 88 of them, which incldes 2 coies of the complaint and the accompanying financial statements, hypethecation deeds, filings, etc etc. Not only the first page. The ‘speculation’ about ndtv as you so sweetly call it not speculation but fact. The many violations of the law are detailed out in the subsequent pages of the FIR.
    In any case, you seem to think you are arguing the case for NDTV and I am the prosecution and that this is going to be decided ont he basis of this post-war 😉
    It’s not. So chill. I for one cannot tolerate cheats and rich as Croesus ones at that, so I hope the Roys are called to answer for their sins.

  • Rohini

    Sambit Patra can make a CBI raid happen? ok….now, it’s not just financial gyaan that you lack!

    You need to up the ante on your knowledge.