The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), conducted raids at the residence of NDTV co-founder Prannoy Roy and his wife Rashika Roy and their holding company RRPR Holding Pvt Ltd. In a move that’s been seen as intimidation and an attack on the free press, the first line of the FIR filed by the CBI reads 'criminal conspiracy, cheating and criminal misconduct'. Raids were also conducted on unknown officials of ICICI Bank. Overall, the CBI carried out raids and searches of four different places in Delhi and Dehradun.
The broadcasting company put out a statement condemning the raid as “shocking”. The statement read in part –
“This is a blatant political attack on the freedom of the press as 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, who has been making false allegations and filing cases in courts of law with these false allegations.”
The FIR pertains to allegations that the Roy’s engaged in a number of financial market violations and caused a loss of Rs 48 crore to ICICI Bank by entering into a flawed loan repayment arrangement. The person in question, Sanjay Dutt, was a consultant to NDTV and was a minority stakeholder owning 1% of the company according to a report in the The Wire.
The company hit out against the government alleging an attempt to silence the media –
“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”.
The company in an updated statement included a copy of the document showing the loan amount had been repaid. It read in part –
“The allegation appears to be for a loan which has been repaid by Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy more than seven years ago. NDTV and its promoters have never defaulted on any loan to ICICI or any other bank. We adhere to the highest levels of integrity and independence."
Two prominent journalists for NDTV saw this as a clampdown on the freedom of the press:
Message is clear: any independent voices in media will be bullied and shut down. Black day. https://t.co/lKE93K29cp— Sreenivasan Jain (@SreenivasanJain) June 5, 2017
Noted journalist and former colleague of Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai spoke out against the raids tweeting –
A message to those in the media who are still independent and do their job by fearlessly asking questions. We won't be intimidated https://t.co/sNC7pEPnOW— Nidhi Razdan (@RazdanNidhi) June 5, 2017
Investigations into NDTV’s finances are not new. According to a December 2015 profile in Caravan Magazine of NDTV and its finances, back in 2008, Prannoy and Radhika Roy borrowed Rs.501 crore from India Bulls Financial Services. In order to pay back this amount they took a loan from ICICI and put up their entire personal shareholding of the company as well as that of Radhika Roy Prannoy Roy Holdings Private Limited (a holding company) as collateral.
Raid on @PrannoyRoyNDTV for a 2010 case in 2017? CBI/IT must put details in public fora else will face charge of vendetta against media.— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) June 5, 2017
The profile explains –
“A December 2010 report in the newspaper Sunday Guardian, co-authored by the journalist Prayaag Akbar – the son of MJ Akbar, who owned the weekly along with the senior advocate and BJP member Ram Jethmalani – described the workings of this ICICI loan as ‘financial chicanery’, and said the company had ‘indulged in financial misdemeanours and malpractices in connivances with ICICI.”
Some journalists were cautious in their responses before treating the situation as an attack on the freedom of the press. Former Editor of The Hindu, Mailini Parthasarathy said media houses should be transparent –
Media houses should be as transparently open to public scrutiny as any other business in order to retain credibility and public trust— Malini Parthasarathy (@MaliniP) June 6, 2017
While Managing Editor of the Financial Express Sunil Jain said journalists can’t be above the law –
The opposition capitalised on the situation, speaking out in support for press freedom. The AAP and Arvind Kejriwal tweeted against the raids –
We strongly condemn raids on Dr Roy n NDTV group. Its an attempt to silence independent and anti-establishment voices— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) June 5, 2017
NDTV also got other politicians on their side in this developing story in the form of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, calling this a disturbing trend.
Shocked at the raids on Dr @PrannoyRoyNDTV's house. He is highly respected and reputed. Disturbing trend— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) June 5, 2017
Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken spoke out against the raids saying “It is a strong attack on the freedom of the press and the Congress party strongly condemns it. We are standing with the media. If the need arises, we will use democratic means to oppose this action.”
The Wire editorial called the raids an “undisguised assault on media freedom” –
“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.”
“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 the country’s oldest news channel, NDTV, which has, without doubt, contributed significantly to the growth and evolution of the Indian news television industry.”
The Editors Guild of India expressed concern over the situation, calling it an attempt to muzzle the media. Their statement read –
“Entry of police and other agencies into the media offices is a serious matter...While the Editors Guild maintains that no individual or institution is above the law, the Guild condemns any attempt to muzzle the media and calls upon the CBI to follow the due process of law and ensure there is no interference in the free functioning of news operations.”
The government however remained defiant as Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting Venkaiah Naidu said the “law is taking its own course” and said this is not a witch hunt.
In a column for The New Indian Express, S Gurumurthy praised the actions of the government and took NDTV to task writing –
“The government has finally acted against Mr and Mrs Prannoy Roy and NDTV Ltd for fraud and deceit, which has been the subject matter of litigation in courts.”
He lays out the case of how cash strapped NDTV’s fortunes improved after the UPA government came to power by floating 20 wholly-owned subsidiaries in different parts of the world which raised $417 million –
“NDTV had a huge cash loss of Rs 248 crore. It had no funds even to pay salaries, and its shares were trading at less than par. Its fortunes soared after the UPA came to power, and it received funds through a host of shell companies floated by it after 2004.”
He concludes by questioning the silence of Prannoy Roy and whether NDTV felt threatened, implying the law is catching up with them –
“Will Mr Roy speak now? Is the CBI acting against fraud or against NDTV’s freedom? You want freedom to camouflage the money? Freedom to suppress the subsidiaries’ balance sheet? Freedom from tax law inquiries?”
The former editor of The Hindu agreed with the column:
This is why I'm not sure the NDTV case qualifies as an attack on press freedom https://t.co/wJbbAA6Fvg— Malini Parthasarathy (@MaliniP) June 6, 2017
Writing in the Huffington Post, Sandip Roy questions the motives of the government. He states –
“Yet here's the simple truth that we refuse to countenance. Why is it not possible that even if there is anything wrong, anything shady, anything questionable about NDTV's finances, it is also simultaneously possible that the government is going after it with extra zeal because it does not like its editorial stance?”
He argues that the reaction to the raid has formed into familiar lines –
“Those who support the channel see the raid as a witch hunt. Those who oppose it see a biased channel being forced to eat humble pie. They see #IStandWithNDTV as a liberal double standard, covering up alleged financial malfeasance among its own.”
“The BJP's Sambit Patra accused NDTV of having an anti-government agenda and got a tongue-lashing from the anchor Nidhi Razdan. Today the question can be flipped. Does the government have an anti-NDTV agenda? The government will say that the real question is does NDTV have a financial problem?”
Writing in the Scroll, Kalpana Sharma, writes of the BJP’s saffron-tinted view of the country where there is no room for an independent media –
“There has always been an uneasy relationship between the state and the media. This government has made no bones about the fact that it has little time for the media unless it is willing to sing its praises. Its unwillingness to face critical questioning is exemplified by the fact that after three years in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not addressed a single press conference”
Prannoy Roy has yet to issue a personal statement. As Sandip Roy writes in the Huffington Post –
“In polarised times everything that is not white is black and everything that is not black is white. When battle lines are being drawn that divide those who are with us from those who are against us, there's no room for grey.”More columns by Varun Sukumar