No One Can Be Above The Law; Not Even You, NDTV

No One Can Be Above The Law; Not Even You, NDTVPrannoy Roy (Ana-Bianca Marin/Getty Images)
  • The idea that some groups can claim to hold everybody else to account while not holding themselves answerable to anyone must be discouraged

This had been building up for a while now. For the last few years, reports on notices by regulators and government agencies to controversial television channel NDTV on its financial dealings kept surfacing frequently. The raid at Prannoy Roy’s residence today by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons, has to be seen in this context.

The CBI raid at the residence of Prannoy Roy, co-founder of New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV) and its executive chairperson, is said to be related to a loan and its alleged diversion by Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika Roy. The CBI’s FIR has reportedly been registered on the complaint of Sanjay Dutt, the director of Quantum Security, who is said to be a minority shareholder of NDTV. It is related to a Rs 48 crore default on a loan given by ICICI.

Various reports also suggest that a loan of Rs 375 crore was granted by ICICI Bank to Radhika Roy Prannoy Roy Holdings Private Limited (RRPR), owned by Radhika and Prannoy Roy. This company RRPR Holdings is said to control NDTV. Out of the money RRPR received from ICICI Bank, Prannoy and Radhika allegedly diverted money worth Rs 21 crores and Rs 71 crores to themselves respectively.

While this is just one among the many suspicious transactions that this group has been under the scanner for, if the above deals had occurred in any other company, an investigation would be in order. And that is exactly what the investigative agencies have done.

Like lakhs of other companies in India, NDTV too, is a private business. Private businesses have rules to follow and regulators to be answerable to. While some left-leaning people consider NDTV’s reporting exemplary, NDTV’s financial deals seem to be anything but.

Various media persons from other media houses too started calling this an attack on media freedom. This is a dangerous line of argument and one that leads us down a perilous path. Then raiding a cinema producer would be an attack on artistic freedom. Raiding a Satyam-type company would be an attack against software development. Nobody then, must submit to the law because doing so infringes on their freedom to scam.

Every week there are tens of businesses and people against whom government agencies either issue notices or conduct raids. NDTV is just another business. As much as NDTV and its friends may want to puff up in self-importance, NDTV too must submit to the law.

There seems to be a concerted attempt to place the business of journalism as something above and beyond other businesses. However, as far as most people can see, there is nothing in the law that says freedom of media means freedom to conduct murky financial deals.

This apart, there have been notices by Enforcement Directorate regarding thousands of crores worth Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) violations, questions on interest-free loans, questions on ownership, accusations of violation of securities laws and accusations of other such financial malpractices laid at NDTV’s doorstep.

Rather than consider the option of approaching the courts and clear the cloud hanging over their financial deals, NDTV and its star anchors seem to be keener on spinning this as an issue of media freedom. Does media freedom guarantee immunity from the country’s laws?

Consider the example of Narendra Modi who was constantly harassed with accusations and insinuations by the media and its allied academia and NGO networks. As an elected representative of a democracy should, he submitted himself to a grilling by the Supreme Court constituted- Special Investigation Team (SIT) and came out clean. The contrast is stark and clear. While Modi utilised investigations to establish innocence, NDTV considers investigations as an attack on their freedom.

This pernicious idea that some groups can claim to hold everybody else to account while they will not hold themselves answerable to anyone must be discouraged. Fair-minded people must let media houses know that they can have no special rights that others do not when it comes to following the law.

This duplicity is just like that of free speech where parts of the media want government regulation for everyone else but only self-regulation for themselves. Thankfully, self-regulation is not a concept the law recognizes in financial matters. However, some media persons seem to want to that too.

Reluctant techie. Bangalore lover. Man of eclectic passions with cricket and politics topping the chart. Wit, subtle humour, sarcasm aficionado. Keen on understanding Dharma.

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