NDTV founders detained; channel says subversion of basic rights

MUMBAI, Aug 9: Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika, the founders of the independent news network NDTV, were prevented from flying abroad on Friday evening.
A company statement said the couple is facing a case filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for the last two years, and sought to link the action with muzzling of free speech and freedom of the press.
“Today’s action is, along with events like raids on media owners, a warning to the media to fall in line – or else,” said a statement from NDTV that pioneered cable news in the country.
The action is “a complete subversion of basic rights,” the company statement said.
It is to be noted that the country’s ranking has been continuously slipping in the press freedom index, and stood at 140 in a list of 180 as of 2019.
Preventing the Roys from travelling abroad is a “shameful continuance of the campaign to warn the media that nothing less than complete obeisance is acceptable,” the statement said.
The Roys were supposed to return on 16 August, the statement said, without disclosing either the destination or the purpose. But some media reports said they were headed to the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
The statement identified them as “journalists” and said “they have been stopped on the basis of a fake and wholly unsubstantiated corruption case filed by the CBI about an ICICI Bank loan that was taken by their company holding company RRPR, which was fully repaid with interest ahead of schedule,” the statement said, adding that the same has been challenged in the Delhi High Court.
The statement said the Roys have been cooperating with the law enforcement agencies all these while and have also been travelling abroad regularly, and termed the “flight risk” insinuations as “ludicrous.”
Even though the statement mentions the CBI, it was immediately unclear as to which of the law enforcement agencies issued the detention order, nor was it clear if the couple ever featured in any lookout circular which is used to stop individuals from flying out of the country.
A Mumbai airport spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
In June 2017, the Roys’ home and offices were searched by the CBI over charges of defrauding a bank, which was termed as a “witch-hunt” by the broadcaster.
The CBI case has been filed against the Roys and their company, RRPR Holding, for allegedly causing losses to private sector lender ICICI Bank, which had reportedly given Rs 366 crore to RRPR after the Roys pledged their NDTV shares which were valued more than the then prevailing price.
The lender settled for a foreclosure of the loan, agreeing to a part-waiver of interest that allegedly resulted in a loss of Rs 48 crore for the ICICI Bank, the CBI had reportedly found.
“NDTV and ICICI Bank entered into a criminal conspiracy to transfer ownership of NDTV to a shell company, against banking rules, Sebi Act,” the CBI had said in its FIR.
The broadcaster had then termed it as concerted harassment based on false accusations.
“We will not succumb to these attempts to blatantly undermine democracy and free speech in India,” it had said then and also found support from the Editors Guild.
Apart from the CBI case, the Enforcement Directorate and the income tax authorities have also been investigating NDTV since 2014 in a separate case involving receiving of funds from a foreign institution and settling of that account at 80 percent less than the original amount received. (PTI)