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Wednesday, 7 June 2017

No vendetta: CBI actions against NDTV raise disturbing questions on media harassment (The Times of India - 7 June 2017)

     CBI’s searches this week at the residence and other properties of the promoters of NDTV, Prannoy and Radhika Roy, raise a number of disturbing questions. While no one is above the rule of law, the latter should not be arbitrary and whimsical. As the Editors Guild’s expression of “deep concern” over the raids rightly emphasized, entry of police and agencies into media offices is a serious matter and should not be undertaken lightly. Details of the case registered against the Roys are unfortunately bound to lead to questions about the functioning of CBI.

     The essence of the case is that the Roys, acting in collusion with some officials of ICICI Bank, carried out inappropriate financial transactions about a decade back. The complainant, however, is not the bank itself but a person claiming to be a shareholder of both NDTV and the bank. Barring the Roys, NDTV and a holding company no one else has been named in CBI’s First Information Report (FIR). This is odd given the myriad laws that have been allegedly violated by many entities.

     CBI needs to be perceived as fair-minded if it is to get rid of pejorative descriptions such as “caged parrot”. Moreover, it is the basic dharma of any democracy that governments have to live with criticism emanating from the media even if they do not like parts of it. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized recently, such criticism is healthy as it is the only way government mistakes and shortcomings can be highlighted. Muzzling the media means government is no longer accountable to society; moreover, it would radically undermine India’s soft power abroad at a time when Modi has done much good work raising its profile. As the country’s premier investigative agency, CBI must conduct itself in a manner where it is seen to act only out of the noblest of motives.

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