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Lutyens intellectuals on the ropes: Why the NDTV issue is proof of their irrelevance

Author: Sriram Ramakrishnan
Publication: The Economics Time
Date: June 15, 2017
URL:    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/yieldcurve/lutyens-intellectuals-on-the-ropes-why-the-ndtv-issue-proof-of-their-irrelevance/?s=03

Liberal intelligentsia and media elite in the world’s oldest and biggest democracies had a bad time last week. In Washington, liberal journalists salivating over the prospect of the impeachment of president Donald Trump got a rude jolt when the widely anticipated Senate testimony of former FBI director James Comey turned out to be a dud. Mr Comey did not provide any explosive information that would provide material evidence for a possible Trump impeachment and may have instead got himself into a legal tangle by admitting to leaking unauthorized information. Also, he clarified and rubbished media reports that suggested that he had never informed president Trump that he was not under any investigation. Sections of the American media that was promoting `’ake news’ and mindless anti-Trumpism were left flabbergasted and stunned by the testimony.

There was a dramatic moment in India too but it did not happen because of any court hearing or testimony. Instead, it happened because of a raid by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the residence of Prannoy Roy, well-known journalist and founder of one of India’s oldest news television networks, NDTV. The CBI raided Dr Roy’s residence after a complaint by a former consultant alleging wrongful gain to the promoters of NDTV and losses to ICICI Bank due to collusion and criminal conspiracy.

The response to the raid was outrage, more outrage and even more outrage. Liberal media frothed at the mouth. India is becoming a dictatorship, they said. It is becoming fascist country ruled by a control freak who wants to suppress the media. New York Times, that epitome of objective journalism whose lies were called out by Mr Comey himself last Thursday, wrote an editorial titled ‘India’s Battered Free Press’. Other critics like Arun Shourie, Kuldip Nayar also weighed in on Friday at the Delhi press club event. They likened it to Emergency in 1975-77 as if hordes of policemen are stomping around media offices arresting journalists and examining what they write on a daily basis.

The chorus of `this is emergency’ shouting journalists and intellectuals is now so loud that one is compelled to ask whether they are indeed serious or whether they are just showboating to brush aside the real issue under the carpet. Look around you! Do you see any signs of Emergency here? Are police clamping prohibitory orders and arresting public on the spot? How many politicians are in jail for questioning the government? More importantly, how many journalists have been prevented from writing and how many media houses are being harassed and prevented from publishing what they want? A few days before the Monday raids, social scientist and historian Partha Chatterjee wrote in The Wire that India Army’s actions in Kashmir resembled General Dyer’s atrocities in Punjab in 1919. Has he been arrested for making such a claim and has online news site been shut down yet? Every day, talking heads and journalists routinely criticise the government on various policy proposals. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been repeatedly mocked on social media for his various foreign tours. Has social media been shut down and the offenders jailed?

The problem is that a section of journalists in Delhi and Mumbai, the two principal centres of media activity, have taken to exaggeration and hype to either score political points or wring some favours from the government on most major issues. So a raid cum investigation into alleged wrongdoing becomes an attack on freedom of the press; the killing of a journalist in Mumbai means that journalists are somehow unsafe and need to be protected through a special law. Why? Doctors are also frequently attacked while doing their duty? Shouldn’t there be a special law for them as well? These journalists are also unaware of the damage they are doing to themselves and their profession.

The deafening silence from intellectuals on the accusations against NDTV can mean only one thing. They would rather indulge in hyperbole and cry victimisation than focus on specific issues. Take for instance the accusations against NDTV. Sree Iyer of Pgurus has done a great job of collecting all facts and publishing it in form of a book, NDTV Frauds. The book details all the accusations against the channel and its promoters including details of possible violations of foreign exchange and money laundering laws. The Income Tax, Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Enforcement Directorate have been investigating these allegations for many years now.

The IT department’s dispute resolution panel report alleging money laundering against NDTV for its transactions with NBC was issued in 2013, well before the Modi government came to power. The Delhi high court in March 2017 lifted a stay by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) on the department’s Rs 525 crore tax demand on the channel. ED had slapped a Rs 2,030 crore notice on the channel for violating FEMA regulations. Is the Delhi high court also acting under Modi govt pressure when acting against NDTV?

The details of these cases including the Rs 375 crore loan given by ICICI Bank and the loan given by a subsidiary of Reliance Industries to repay the ICICI loan make for mind-boggling reading. If all the allegations and charges are true, Mr Prannoy Roy and his wife and other senior executives of NDTV at the helm of affairs have serious questions to answer. They could even face jail time. The reputation of the channel, already weakened for its pro-Congress bias, would well and truly be shattered. Wonder why no intellectual or journalist supporting NDTV are raising such issues or even examining the range of cases and charges against the channel before spouting rubbish about freedom of the press.

The problem in both India and the US is the desperate attempt by liberal intellectuals to overturn or somehow discredit a democratic verdict which installed leaders and parties they don’t like in positions of power. In the US, it has taken the form of a hysterical fixation of alleged collusion between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign. In India, it is the Modi government’s alleged attempts to impose Hindutva and Emergency through the backdoor. The fact that journalists and intellectuals are doing little to examine underlying evidence is proof enough of hysteria and partisanship ruling their minds.


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