New Delhi: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a global nonprofit that works on press freedom, has condemned the arrest of Telangana-based journalist Ravi Prakash and asked the government to ensure his release.
“Ravi Prakash is clearly being persecuted in retaliation for critical coverage on the Tolivelugu news website,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, in a statement. “Authorities in Telangana should release him immediately.”
Prakash, the former CEO of TV9, was arrested by the Hyderabad police in a cheating case on Saturday (October 5). The director of the Associated Broadcasting Company Private Limited – which promotes the channel – G. Singa Rao complained to the police that Prakash had withdrawn Rs 18 crore from ABCL in a fraudulent manner.
The former CEO had been forced to step down earlier this year, The News Minute reported, after the ABCL board passed a resolution revoking all powers vested with him.
The conflict between ABCL and Prakash was based on Alanda Media’s recent takeover of TV9. The company said that Prakash actively opposed Alanda’s move to appoint four directors and he had ‘malafide intention’. The former CEO, however, said that a “hostile takeover” was at play and press freedom was being suppressed. He accused two industrialists Jupally Rameshwar Rao, owner of real estate company My Home Group, and Krishna Reddy of Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited – of arm-twisting the management, TNM reported.
According to CPJ, TV9 reporters say Prakash was actually arrested because he refused to take down two interviews accusing the Telangana chief minister and a leading industrialist of corruption.
The group’s statement says:
Tolivelugu reporter Raghu Ganji told CPJ that on September 30 the news website had carried two interviews on its YouTube channel conducted by him on the ongoing strike by 50,000 employees of a state-run transport corporation demanding pay hike and a freeze on the privatization of public transport. In one interview, transport union leader E Aswathama Reddy accused Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao and industrialist PV Krishna Reddy of being involved in a multi-million dollar public transport scam. In another interview, opposition leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka made allegations of corruption against Rao and Reddy relating to a huge irrigation project in Kaleshwaram, Telangana.
On October 2, another Tolivelugu reporter, Narsimha Reddy (no relation to Krishna Reddy), received a message over WhatsApp from an unknown number asking that the interview with Vikramarka be changed to a “private” setting on YouTube, in order to remove it from public view. According to Narsimha Reddy, an hour later he got a call from another unknown number asking him to take down both the interviews. “The caller first claimed that he was calling from [the] information and public relations department of the Telangana government. When I enquired further, he said he is calling from the office of Krishna Reddy. He told me to remove the interviews or face consequences,” Narsimha Reddy told CPJ.
Later that day around 10:30 pm, Krishna Reddy directly called Prakash demanding that he remove the interviews, according to Narsimha Reddy and Ganji. Prakash refused to do so.