With Arun Shourie and other journalists supporting Prannoy Roy over the CBI raids on an ICICI Bank default case involving Rs.48 crore, the stark question is whether it was an isolated incident of financial impropriety or muzzling press freedom by the authorities. Ironic but the answer is positive for both.
The bank loan issue relates to an old 2008 case which had implicated the owners of NDTV for evasion of Rs.48 crore to ICICIC bank but the enforcement agencies have delayed pressing charges till recently. The media outlet owing to its close ties with powerful ministers in both the Congress and BJP government was able to dodge the case till now, alleges a section of the online media.
Even the BJP government is equally responsible for the delay in pursuing the case as NDTV moved closer to PM Narendra Modi’s cabinet vowing its full support and participation in Swachh Bharat Campaign. However, the bon homie did not work for long as many NDTV journalists kept their individual freedom to pursue news without any fear or favour from the government that had often angered the South Block.
The final trigger was when NDTV news anchor Nidhi Razdan asked BJP spokesman Sambit Patra last week to leave her show for alleging her as a Congress supporter in a live debate. Live shows are different from behind-the-door arrangements and Patra had apparently lost his cool when he failed to convincingly argue the case of cow protection in the Northeast and eventually attracted his ignominous exit from the debate.
What followed was merely a knee-jerk raction as the entire machinery of the government moved in quickly to revive the old pending case against NDTV founder Prannoy Roy to defame the news channel in turn. It is essentially a hi-fi deal that went sour bringing both parties to the public attention. Caught in the row were the journalists and their freedom to cover news freely.
When IB Minister Venkaiah Naidu clarified that none of the NDTV offices were raided and the press freedom was in tact, Arun Shourie retorted saying that the minister lacks skills even to write in English, let alone writing for newspapers, thus making the whole issue uglier with personal attacks.
Leaving aside all the personal attacks and playing victim, NDTV should come out with its own version giving all the details of the issue and in turn seek the media support to fight for what it says is an attack on press freedom.
On its part, the CBI and other enforcement agencies should reveal the details of the whole case and the intentional delay in pursuing the case for such a long period. Only then the journalists and the public will be clear as to who is at fault.
The governments should also realise that such raids on media houses dilute the confidence among the journalists in a free and fair coverage of news and paid news fill the newspapers and TV news channels, which will affect the entire fabric of democratic institutions.