Don’t muzzle the media !

Whether we like it or not, the credibility of the Central Bureau of Investigation continues to be of a “caged parrot” of the ruling establishment. It was so during ex-CBI Director Ranjit Sinha’s tenure under the Congress-led UPA regime. The change of political masters at the Centre in 2014 does not seem to have made any difference to the style and functioning of India’s premir investigative agency despite all big talks of democracy and transparency of the system. No wonder, every move by the CBI on the plea of wrongful or corrupt practices smacks of being a politically motivated exercise as is the case of its sudden raids on the residence of the NDTV’s co-founders Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy.

The raids relate to an alleged loan default of Rs 375 crore from the ICICI Bank by the news channel in 2010 during the UPA rule. This in itself raises a simple question; how come the CBI became “wiser” after a lapse of seven years, and that too, under the BJP-led NDA regime ? Doesn’t this smell a rat in fixing up the popular TV channel for not being so convenient to the masters of the day? Apparently, this seems to be the motive which led to widespread protest by the media personnel. The warning signal from the large assembly of journalists at the Press Club of India on June 9 is sharp and clear. The authorities ought to have learnt from some of the past events, especially Indira Gandhi’s ill-advised move on the Bihar Press Bill and Rajiv Gandhi’s Defamation Bill which were quietly buried in the face of massive protests by journalists against playing with freedom of the press in India’s vibrant democracy.

Freedom of the media is non-negotiable. We in Power Politics are fully committed to the independence of the press. We care for the voices of dissent which logically question policies and programmes of the ruling elite. Even otherwise, the entire handling of the NDTV matter puts the CBI in a zone of suspicion. It could have at least done its homework properly and objectively and not gone about its business in an amateur manner. The CBI has accused the NDTV group and ICICI executives of “ conspiracy and cheating .”

Legal pundits point out : “Though lakhs and crores of rupees have not been paid by several industrialists, no criminal case has yet been registered against any one of them by the CBI. In the NDTV matter, the CBI has not only chosen to register an FIR, but also conducted a search for a loan which had already been duly paid by the NDTV management to the ICICI Bank, a private bank.” Presumably, the CBI has acted arbitrarily under pressure from the powers-that-be to fix up the news channel and forewarn all electronic and print media : behave or otherwise….. !

Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu says there is “no political interference” in the agency’s action, stressing that the law has to take its course. Of course, the law must take its course in all matters of defaults, frauds and wrong-doings. No one disputes this basic principle of law. However, an element of suspicion creeps in when the law enforcement agency becomes selective in action, and that too, after a gap of seven years of alleged default which, the NDTV management says “has been paid seven years ago.” Curiously enough, the ICICI bank is not the complainant. The CBI has reportedly acted on the basis of an FIR filed by Sanjay Dutt, whom the NDTV authorities describe as “a disgruntled former consultant” with the news channel.

Minister Naidu says : “If somebody does something wrong, simply because they belong to media, you cannot expect the government to keep quiet.” We welcome Naidu’s statement. The media is surely not above the law of the land. But the moot point is : Is the CBI not being partisan? Has it ever tried to look beyond in a wider perspective the goings-on in business-cum-political-cum criminal nexus which has cost the public exchequer crores and crores ? Instead of being selective, the authorities need to reform the system to make every business activity, the media included, transparent and accountable.

The authorities must appreciate the media’s job is to thoroughly examine facts and events and report them accurately without any prejudice or biases. This is very much needed in a dynamic democratic society like India. The media must take special care that facts, ideas and information are not distorted to leave the reading or viewing public confused or blinded.

A democratically elected government cannot and must not conduct itself in a partisan or motivated a manner which leaves people with a defective understanding of men, matters and issues.

The freedom of press is not an ornament but the very soul of a democracy. Every establishment needs to appreciate this elementary fact.

We are totally against any form of censorship or a controlling mechanism to muzzle the media. We do not wish to indulge in any blame game. We can only say that the time has come for honest soul-searching by all right-thinking persons in the Government, the Opposition and the media as well.

We want all organs of democracy – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary as well as the Fourth Estate to function correctly, objectively and justly in the interests of the people. We also take this opportunity to tell our fraternity that we need to be equally concerned and agitated about the plight of fellow journalists working in small towns and mofusil areas who often have to bear the brunt of wrath of the State or local authorities for speaking the truth. In Bastar and other places, many of our media persons have had to pay a heavy price for pursuing journalism of courage. They, too, deserve our salute, attention and support.

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