Thursday, June 08, 2017

CBI raid on NDTV: Press freedom in India suffers major blow, says NYT, recalling strict censorship of 1975-77

By Our Representative
In a scathing attack on the Government of India, powerful US daily, “The New York Times” (NYT) has said that press freedom in India has “suffered a fresh blow” because of the Central Bureau Investigation (CBI) Monday raid on “homes and offices connected to the founders of NDTV, India’s oldest television news station.”
In an opinion piece, titled "India's Battered Free Press", approved by the Editorial Board of NYT, the daily says in its editorial, published in the print edition of June 7, “The raids mark an alarming new level of intimidation of India’s news media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
Calling the “story” behind the raid “a bit tangled”, a “gist” of the story by NYT quotes CBI as saying that it conducted the raids “because of a complaint that NDTV’s founders had caused ‘an alleged loss’ to ICICI, a private bank, related to repayment of a loan.”
“In 2009, ICICI said the note had been paid in full. Not really, the investigators said: A reduction in the interest rate had saddled the bank with a loss — hence the raid”, NYT adds.
Insisting that this story “doesn’t wash”, NYT underlines, “India’s large corporations regularly default on debt with nary a peep from authorities.”
It goes on: “In fact, even as India’s state-owned banks are holding bad debt of about $186 billion, Mr. Modi’s government has hesitated to go after big defaulters.”
“But suddenly we have dramatic raids against the founders of an influential media company — years after a loan was settled to a private bank’s satisfaction”, says NYT, adding, “To Mr Modi’s critics, the inescapable conclusion is that the raids were part of a ‘vendetta’ against NDTV.”
NYT recalls, ever since Modi took office in 2014, “journalists have faced increasing pressures”, adding, “They risk their careers — or lives — to report news that is critical of the government or delves into matters that powerful politicians and business interests do not want exposed.”
The daily says, “News outlets that run afoul of the government can lose access to officials. The temptation to self-censor has grown, and news reports are increasingly marked by a shrill nationalism that toes the government line.”
Pointing out that “through all this, NDTV has remained defiant”, the daily says, “Last year, its Hindi-language station was ordered off the air for a day as punishment for reporting on a sensitive attack on an air base, but it stood by its reporting, insisting that it was based on official briefings.”
Quoting Praveen Swami, an Indian Express reporter, who warned on Twitter that Monday’s raids were “a defining moment,” adding: “The last time this sort of thing happened was during the Emergency,” the daily says, this was “a reference to the strict censorship of 1975-77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency and ruled as an autocrat.”
“Sadly”, concludes NYT, “Mr Swami’s warning is warranted. The CBI said on Tuesday that it ‘fully respects the freedom of press.’ Even if that’s true, the question still outstanding is whether Mr Modi does.”

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