Indian police raid NDTV founders' homes and offices

Couple behind liberal TV channel face charges over $10m bank loss; critics say probe is attempt to muzzle media

Federal investigators have raided the office of the founders of a prominent Indian television channel, triggering concerns that this was a bid to "muzzle the media".

On Monday, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) searched the houses and private offices of Dr Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika Roy, the founders of NDTV, the first private English language television channel in India.

The couple have been accused of causing a loss of about 480 million rupees (S$10.28 million) on a 2008 loan from private bank ICICI.

The CBI has filed a case of "criminal conspiracy, cheating and criminal misconduct" against the couple and unnamed bank officials.

This was for taking a loan of 3.5 billion rupees in October 2008 at 19 per cent interest, through their company RRPR - named after their initials - but repaying it at a reduced interest of 9.5 per cent, thereby causing loss to the bank.

But questions have been raised over the timing of the probe - the agency filed its case last Friday, although the loan was repaid about eight years ago.

  • 480m

  • The loss in rupees on a loan taken from private bank ICICI by the Roys

The Editors Guild of India said it "maintains that no individual or institution is above the law", but "condemns any attempt to muzzle the media and calls upon the CBI to follow the due process of law".

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has an uneasy relationship with the media, with a government minister earlier calling journalists "presstitutes''- an insult still used against journalists and media groups, especially on social media.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has kept the media at a distance, preferring to communicate directly to the public through Twitter instead of having interviews or press conferences.

Many have accused the ruling party of trying to muzzle the media and ensure favourable publicity, charges denied by the government.

NDTV is one of the few liberal-leaning voices in a media landscape increasingly dominated by nationalist outlets.

Even before the latest probe, the station has had run-ins with the government, which imposed an unprecedented one-day ban last year on its Hindi television channel for allegedly revealing sensitive information while covering a terror attack on an Indian Air Force base.

And NDTV anchor Nidhi Razdan asked BJP spokesman Sambit Patra to leave her show a few days ago for suggesting that the channel had an agenda against the government.

The CBI yesterday said "wrongly accusing the agency of acting under pressure is uncalled for" and an attempt to mar its image. However, NDTV said the case is a "political vendetta and a witch hunt".

"It is clearly the independence and fearlessness of NDTV's team that the ruling party's politicians cannot stomach and the CBI raid is merely another attempt at silencing the media," said NDTV in a statement on Monday.

NDTV's financial deals have also been under the scrutiny of agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax Department for possible violations of tax and foreign exchange rules.

While opposition parties have criticised the raids, views were mixed elsewhere.

"Media houses should be as transparently open to public scrutiny as any other business in order to retain credibility and public trust," tweeted Ms Malini Parthasarathy, ex-editor of The Hindu newspaper.

The Tribune newspaper, in an editorial about NDTV, said the "channel's financial precariousness has been one of the worst kept secrets in the media world". It added: "A clear message is being sent to the media fraternity: resist at your own cost."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'Indian police raid NDTV founders' homes and offices'. Print Edition | Subscribe