‘New Level of Intimidation’: Editorials Sound Alarm on NDTV Raids
The likes of Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Peri Maheshwar and The New York Times were critical of the raids.
The Central Bureau of Investigation’s raids at the offices and residences of NDTV promoters Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy on Monday paved the way for both sides to level accusations at each other. While NDTV claimed the raids signalled a step up in the muffling of the media, CBI issued a clarification saying it was simply following procedures and investigating the loss of Rs 48 crores caused to ICICI bank over RRPR Holding's gain.
The raids also got prominent journalists and editors to take a stand on the issue, many of whom explicitly asserted that the raids were part of the government’s larger plan to target any entity that deviates from its ideology.
This Is Not About NDTV Alone: Pratap Bhanu Mehta
“The CBI raids on NDTV owner Prannoy Roy are designed for multiple objectives. At a surface level, they are meant to intimidate the press. But, at a deeper level, they also seek to heighten the social and ideological momentum on which much of this government hopes to thrive,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote in an article titled ‘Presstitute Chronicles’ for The Indian Express.
In the context of the raids, Mehta writes that for the right wing, NDTV symbolises “the corrupt in the guise of the free, the anti-national in the guise of the cosmopolitan, the closet weapon of the old Congress establishment masquerading under the guise of independence.”
Commenting on the intent behind the raids, Mehta writes:
One does not have to second-guess the CBI’s motives. But the function of the raids is to keep this confusion alive. It is to keep feeding the story that the defenders of press freedom are in truth nothing but those who sold themselves. More than the specific act of intimidation, it is this ideological construct that serves the powers that be most effectively.Pratap Bhanu Mehta
‘NDTV Will Be Made to Suffer’: Maheshwar Peri
In a Facebook post titled ‘10 reasons the NDTV raids stink,’ entrepreneur and former Outlook journalist Maheshwar Peri writes that the raids are “a warning to all of us” and that “NDTV is the message.” “Going forward, media would be more pliant, more compliant, more fearful, less critical,” he predicts.
“This is about a loan settled by a private company, investigated by a public agency based on a private complaint by a private investor in a private bank of a princely sum of 48 crores. What should be CBI's priorities?” he asks.
He concludes by anticipating that “NDTV will suffer.”
Raids Raise Disturbing Questions: Times of India Editorial
Asserting that the raids raise several disturbing questions is a Times of India editorial.
“While no one is above the rule of law, the latter should not be arbitrary and whimsical. As the Editors Guild's expression of “deep concern“ over the raids rightly emphasized, entry of police and agencies into media offices is a serious matter and should not be undertaken lightly. Details of the case registered against the Roys are unfortunately bound to lead to questions about the functioning of CBI,” it says.
New Level of Intimidation of India’s News Media: New York Times
Also critical of the raids was an editorial in the New York Times. “The raids mark an alarming new level of intimidation of India’s news media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” it says.
India’s large corporations regularly default on debt with nary a peep from authorities. In fact, even as India’s state-owned banks are holding bad debt of about $186 billion, Mr Modi’s government has hesitated to go after big defaulters. But suddenly we have dramatic raids against the founders of an influential media company – years after a loan was settled to a private bank’s satisfaction. To Mr Modi’s critics, the inescapable conclusion is that the raids were part of a “vendetta” against NDTV.
Can’t Claim Editorial Freedom With Corporate Dependence: R Jagannathan
Taking a differing stand from the one by Pratap Bhanu and Maheshwar Peri, R Jagannathan, editorial director of Swarajya magazine, writes that “the problem is neither the CBI nor NDTV may emerge in this case smelling of roses.”.
Jagannathan in the Swarajya article says that it is quite clear that NDTV needed corporate money to bail them out when they were in a tight spot.
Agreeing that although the timing of the CBI raids raised eyebrows since NDTV has been hostile to BJP, Jagannathan writes that it is entirely possible that this raid is a part of the government’s recent crackdown on shell companies.
He wrote that media houses are not just being muffled or controlled by the government, but also by advertising and dependence on corporates.
Editorial freedom is not just threatened by government pressure, but corporate ownership or dependence on advertising.
But in a second article in Swarajya, citing section 19(2) of the Banking Regulation Act which disallows banking companies to hold shares in a company as pledgee, mortgagee or absolute owner, of an amount exceeding 30 percent, Jagannathan questions whether CBI will probe the ICICI officials who sanctioned the loan of Rs 375 crore.
“In any event,” Jagannathan continued, “Even if a violation of section 19(2) is established, one can hardly fault the promoters of NDTV for pledging more than 30 percent of outstanding shares when the bank concerned was ready to lend against this collateral.”
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