By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Only a proper and unbiased investigation will reveal whether or not Dr.Prannoy Roy, founder and co-chairman of New Delhi Television (NDTV), had entered into a plethora of illegal transactions to the tune of INR 20,300 million (US$ 314 million). But there is a wide spread feeling in the independent Indian media that the timing of the investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) indicates political vendetta on the part of the politically intolerant Narendra Modi regime.
A look at the history of allegations against the NDTV over the years also shows them as being part of the anti-Congress campaign of the now ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). For details of the case see: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/the-tempest-prannoy-radhika-roy-ndtv
However, the immediate issue, raised by stockbroker Sanjay Dutt, relates to the way Roy and his business partner-wife Radhika, settled the INR 3750 million (US$ 58.2 million) loan they had taken from the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India Bank (ICICI)).
But what raised eyebrows was CBI’s swinging into action immediately after a spat in an NDTV discussion program between anchor Nidhi Razdan and the spokesman of the BJP, Sambit Patra, in which Patra accused NDTV of having an “agenda” and Razdan asked him to leave the program because the accusation had defamed the channel. The spat had taken place in the context of accusations by BJP loyalists and Hindutva right wingers that NDTV has been biased against them and promoting “anti-national” feelings among viewers.
While BJP and Hindutva supporters used the social media to challenge Roy to prove his innocence before the investigating agency, a vast section of the independent media described the action as being part of the Modi government’s continuous bid to suppress freedom and dissent by intimidating dissenters, taking administrative and legal action, and also sending goons to attack them. They mockingly asked if similar action will be taken against tycoon and Modi ally, Adani, for owing banks INR 70000 million?
Complainant Dutt alleged that the Roys had colluded with some ICICI officials to waive a part of the INR 3570 million loan and interest causing a loss of INR 480 million (US$ 7.4 million) to the bank. Dutt had also raised issues like the suppression of information regarding the real owner of NDTV, a shell company owned by a tycoon Ambani.The infusion of foreign funds to the tune of US$ 18 million was allegedly mala fide.
Vows To Fight Back
Roy has vowed to fight back for the sake of media freedom. “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 NDTV said in a statement.
Rajdeep Sardesai from India Today, N Ram who was the former Editor-In-Chief of The Hindu Newspaper, Praveen Swami from Indian Express, Siddharth Vardarajan who’s the founding-editor of The Wire, came out in support of NDTV. Many even suggested that the raids on NDTV founder are reminiscent of the dark period of Emergency that was imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975.
It has become a practice now to dub all opponents of the BJP as “Pakistani agents” or “Presstitudes” (prostituted media persons). Secularists are derided as “sickularists”.
Erosion of Media Freedom
Such open hostility has resulted in the India Freedom Report released by The Hoot, a non-profit media watchdog, concluding that India has a “poor record” and is ranked 136 th among 180 countries in this year’s World Press Freedom Index. Last year, it had ranked three spots higher.
There is an “overall sense of shrinking liberty” in India because of restrictions on the rights of citizens to information, internet access and online freedom, as well as various personal freedoms. In this atmosphere, it says, the press cannot be truly free, the report says.
Between January 2016 and April 2017, at least 54 attacks on journalists were reported in the media across India. In addition, seven journalists were reportedly killed in this period.
The majority of these attacks were perpetrated by the police (nine incidents); leaders of political parties and their supporters (eight); criminals representing the illegal construction, sand mining and coal mining industries (five); mobs resisting media coverage (nine); and even lawyers (four). Threats from vigilante groups are often physical or are conveyed through social media. What’s more, the perpetrators tend to go scot-free. In 2014, for instance, only 32 people were arrested in 114 cases of attacks on journalists.
Censorship and internet shutdowns
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordered a 24-hour ban on NDTV India for allegedly revealing strategic information about the Indian Army’s operations during a terrorist attack on an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot.
Kashmir Reader’s offices were raided, its printing presses closed down and the state government banned the publication for three months. There were 31 instances of the internet being shut down in various parts of India last year, and 14 cases this year. Kashmir led the count with the highest number of internet shutdowns in the past year.
Sakshi News and No 1 News were blocked temporarily on cable television in Andhra Pradesh – allegedly at the behest of the state government – for their coverage of an agitation.
The Central Board for Film Certification censored or blocked films for a range of questionable reasons, including homophobia, abusive language, use of Pakistani artistes, showing a state in a bad light, and even “resemblance” to Prime Minister Modi!
In addition, several cultural events – such as the Udaipur Film Fest and the Kerala Litfest – were attacked by members of pro-Modi, pro-Hindutva vigilante groups. The organizers tamely succumbed and no action was taken against those who threatened to disrupt the festivals.
Sedition Goes Viral
The report describes 2016 as the year sedition “went viral” with 40 cases being filed against individuals or groups in various courts. Five cases were filed in the first four months of 2017.
Sedition is very loosely defined to facilitate action. It is any act which by words, signs, visible representation or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring, hatred or contempt to the government.
2016 was also the year the Supreme Court passed several orders on defamation and sedition. In May 2016, the apex court upheld the validity of the criminal defamation law, stating that “the right to free speech is not absolute” and does not give anyone the right to hurt another’s reputation.
In August, the court clarified that mere criticism does not constitute defamation. Despite all this, in the first three months of 2017, the Jayalaithaa government of Tamil Nadu filed at least 16 cases of defamation against the media.
In March 2015, the Supreme Court struck down a section of the 2000 Information Technology Act (IT Act) that criminalized the dissemination on the internet of information intended to cause “annoyance or inconvenience,” among other loosely worded criteria. Some government departments have sought exemption from the Right to Information Act. The government has now armed itself with equipment to snoop on telephonic and internet communication.
Though Prime Minister Modi is a creature of the media and survives on media publicity, his relations with the media is one-sided. He prefers all communication to be from his end and avoids dialogue. He has been three years in office but is yet to hold a press conference.
(The featured picture at the top shows Dr.Prannoy Roy when he launched NDTV (in 1988)