Officers of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 5, 2017, searched the New Delhi home of Prannoy Roy, the co-founder and executive chair of NDTV New Delhi Television, one of India’s oldest private media companies, and three other premises in the cities of Mussoorie and Dehradun, CBI spokesman RK Gaur told CPJ, declining to comment further.
“A case of bank fraud has been registered against [Prannoy Roy, his wife, Radhika Roy,] and unknown bank officials. This is part of CBI’s recent crackdown on bank fraud and willful defaulters,” the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted the CBI as saying.
The CBI’s criminal complaint alleged that NDTV and officials at the ICICI bank conspired to transfer ownership of NDTV to a shell company and to conceal the source of the money for the transaction.
Roy did not respond to CPJ’s calls or text messages seeking comment. The CEO of NDTV, KVL Narayana Rao, declined to comment, but referred CPJ to a statement the company published on its website on June 5.
“NDTV and its promoters will fight tirelessly against this witch-hunt by multiple agencies,” the statement read. “We will not succumb to these attempts to blatantly undermine democracy and free speech in India.”
The ICICI bank did not immediately comment, according to media reports.
Some saw the CBI’s moves as unusual.
“This is the third government agency after the enforcement directorate and the Income Tax department to look into NDTV’s finances,” Sevanti Ninan, editor of TheHoot.org, told CPJ. “It seems odd for a government agency to be exercised about a 480-million-rupee [U.S.$7.45-million] loss from a private bank to NDTV.”
“Economic offenses are within the domain of the CBI, but not like this,” N. K. Singh, a former joint director of the CBI, told The New York Times. “ICICI said they have paid the loan. So in such a gray area, why launch raids?”
Relations between NDTV, one of India’s oldest privately owned media companies, and the government have been strained recently.
Last week, Sambit Patra, a spokesperson for the ruling BJP party, in an appearance on the network’s English-language news channel NDTV 24×7, accused the broadcaster of having “an agenda” against the government. Nidhi Razdan, the anchor, asked him to leave the debate, according to news reports.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on November 4, 2016, ordered NDTV India, the network’s Hindi-language news channel, to stop broadcasting from November 9-10, after a committee in the ministry found that the channel had revealed “strategically sensitive information” while covering an attack on an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in Punjab state in January 2016, according to media reports.