|CBI raids the residences and offices of Radhika and Prannoy Roy on June 5, 2017, |
whose channel, NDTV, has been openly critical of PM Narendra Modi.
- According to CBI, it was responding to a complaint regarding an alleged loss to ICICI Bank on the repayment of an old loan to the Roys. Both ICICI Bank and NDTV are private entities.
- NDTV swiftly published a letter from ICICI Bank, dated from 2009, which stated that the loan had been repaid in full.
- The relevant complaint did not come from the allegedly wronged party.
- NDTV has been an critic of PM Modi’s politics and his brand of Hindu nationalism.
- The CBI raid is an act of intimidation against NDTV, as well as against all media outlets that remain critical of Hindu-nationalist politics and the government’s policies.
- The takeover of NTV has, 17 years since that throttled all independent media in Putin’s Russia. CNN, described it as: Pass laws that constrict the space available for independent media. Set legal traps, citing anti-terrorist legislation. Send the tax police to carry out endless inspections of a recalcitrant broadcaster or their business associates, denying that political views have anything to do with the investigation. Don’t kill them, just maim them. Try to squeeze them into irrelevance.
- Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, has followed a similar recipe. Over his 14 years in power, numerous independent media organisations have either been shut down or coercively passed into pro-Erdogan hands. In one case, in 2007, government authorities seized the independent daily Sabah, citing an omission in the documents for a previous change of ownership several years ago. The paper was then sold to a consortium led by Erdogan’s son-in-law. Today, it is an unofficial government mouthpiece. Erdogan's crackdown on independent media, has weakened them to the point where now he has an alarmingly free hand.
- Modi has cosied up to both Putin and Erdogan. The similarities are the outspoken nationalism, the centralisation of power within their respective parties and governments, the abhorrence of independent scrutiny. Where India departs from present-day Russia and Turkey is in the relative strength and independence of its democratic institutions, which serve to check the government’s autocratic impulses.
- India risks following the Turkish trajectory where media is being controlled by owners ready to bend to government pressure, whether by inclination or compulsion.
- Proprietors of many major media organisations have significant interests in other sectors like real estate or resource extraction, where official support is essential. The government’s leverage is also bolstered by its share of media advertising revenues from the public sector. BJP-led governments intimidating media outlets by the tax authorities or security and investigative agencies have become prominent.
- In 2001, under the government of AB Vajpayee, tax officials targeted financial backers of Tehelka that published videos of officials and politicians taking bribes from reporters posing as salesmen of defence equipment. At least two investors and a journalist were jailed.
- The tax officials also went after Outlook, following a report from the magazine about the undue influence of powerful private companies on the Vajpayee administration’s economic policies. More raids occurred over the next six months.
- So far, India has been resilient in protecting press freedom because whenever governments have attempted to exert control, there has been a strong collective response from the media, civil society, judiciary and political opposition.
- But the devolution of press freedom in Russia and Turkey, where strong leaders have rallied support in the name of nationalism, should warn us of early signs to intimidate and eventually control media. The present targeting of NDTV is no less of a provocation and deserves a strong reaction.
Even if the ICICI bank suffered a loss while closing NDTV loan account settlement in 2009, they never wrote a letter to CBI. But CBI, the country’s premier investigative agency attempting to probe a credit issue between two private parties, now with the heavy-handedness is height of misuse of agencies by BJP. In the past, every government used tax officials and investigative agencies to tame down opposition and opposing media, but present day BJP's scale of misuse is unprecedented. Media houses are experiencing 'Emergency' like atmosphere. And our democracy is in peril!