The press freedom in India “suffered a fresh blow” when the country’s main investigative agency CBI raided homes and offices connected to the founders of NDTV, the New York Times has said, questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to media’s independence. In a strongly-worded article titled ‘India’s Battered Free Press’, the NYT editorial board said the “raids mark an alarming new level of intimidation of India’s news media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The government did not respond to a request by PTI for a reaction on the NYT editorial. However, in the days after the raid, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had said there were no raids on NDTV with the CBI not entering any office of the channel. He had dimissed allegations that the searches were an infringement on the press freedom. The NYT editorial also cited remarks by the Central Bureau of Investigation that it “fully respects the freedom of press”. “Even if that’s true, the question still outstanding is whether Modi does,” the editorial said.
It said that since Modi took office in 2014, journalists in the country have faced “increasing pressures”. The editorial also criticised the government for going after media companies when it has failed to take action against big corporate defaulters, saying India’s large corporations regularly default on debt “with nary a peep from authorities”. Journalists risk their careers and sometimes 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 editorial said. “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,” it said.
With India’s state-owned banks holding bad debt of about USD 186 billion, Modi’s government has “hesitated” to go after big defaulters, the paper said. “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,” it said. The CBI on Monday carried out searches at the residence of NDTV founder Prannoy Roy for allegedly concealing a share transaction from the SEBI and causing a loss to a private bank, a move termed by the channel as a “witch-hunt” based on “same old” false accusations.