ew Delhi: In a move that the channel described as an assault on democracy and free speech, the Central Bureau of Investigation on Monday carried out searches at the residence of NDTV chief Prannoy Roy in the national capital and in Dehradun for allegedly causing losses to a private bank.
According to PTI, which quoted CBI sources, the agency has registered a case against Roy, his wife Radhika and a company they own, RRPR Holdings, “for allegedly causing a loss of Rs 48 crore to ICICI Bank”.
The CBI said it was conducting its searches in four different places in Delhi and Dehradun, including the personal home of the Roys.
In a strongly worded statement, NDTV accused the CBI of “[stepping] up the concerted harassment of NDTV and its promoters based on the same old endless false accusations.”
“NDTV and its promoters will fight tirelessly against this witch-hunt by multiple agencies,’ the channel statement said, adding:
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.”
NDTV is India’s oldest private news channel – and also one of its most highly regarded. Its sober and independent editorial tone stands in stark contrast to what is now the norm in the electronic media.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was accused of pursuing a vendetta against the company by imposing a one-day ban on its Hindi channel, NDTV India, for allegedly violating official coverage rules during the army’s counter-terrorist operation in Pathankot. As journalists protested what they said was an attack on media freedom – most channels had telecast the same information but NDTV was being penalised because of its editorial independence vis a vis the government, they alleged – the ministry backed down from implementing its order. NDTV’s appeal against the ban is now being heard by the Supreme Court.
According to The Hoot, a site which tracks media developments in India, the previous year witnessed the freedom of speech and media coming under further strain.
Though the NDTV founder is in a dispute with the income tax authorities and have gone to court over that, the Hindustan Times has reported that Monday’s searches are linked to a separate probe by the CBI into a loan the Roys took from ICICI in 2008. “A case of bank fraud has been registered against RRPR and unknown bank officials. This is part of CBI’s recent crackdown on bank frauds and wilful defaulters,” the Hindustan Times quoted a CBI source as saying.
The CBI’s action comes days after the channel, considered the least-government friendly by the BJP and its supporters, had a run-in with an official spokesperson of the ruling party, Sambit Patra, last week. After accusing the channel of pursuing “an agenda” during a studio debate on the government’s policies on cattle slaughter, Patra was asked by the anchor, Nidhi Razdan, to leave her show.