Media

The New York Times and the Farrago of lies and misrepresentation

The New York Times, or the “failing NYT” as their president Donald Trump prefers to call them, published an op-ed about India that was centered around the CBI raids at the residences of Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy, the founder promoters of NDTV. The editorial was titled ‘India’s Battered Free Press’. Reading it is a textbook case of how media outlets lie and distort the truth.

Let us have this case study.

They start out by providing a gist of the issue so far, but of course, it is not simple or an unbiased reporting of the situation. This is how they start:

“Press freedom in India suffered a fresh blow on Monday when the country’s main investigative agency raided homes and offices connected to the founders of NDTV, India’s oldest television news station. The raids mark an alarming new level of intimidation of India’s news media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

The only thing that is alarming in the above para is the alarmist language. But then journalism today is all about exaggerating and shouting. So let us ignore that. Let us come to facts, for which the op-ed will need to come to facts.

This is what they write touching some ‘facts’:

“The Central Bureau of Investigation says it conducted the raids because of a complaint that NDTV’s founders had caused “an alleged loss” to ICICI, a private bank, related to repayment of a loan. In 2009, ICICI said the note had been paid in full. Not really, the investigators said: A reduction in the interest rate had saddled the bank with a loss — hence the raid..”

Nope.

The probe is not about causing loss to the private bank. The investigators, aka the CBI, explicitly say that this is NOT about debt repayment, but possible collusion between Roys and some unknown officials at the private bank, which not only violates banking laws but also hint at a criminal conspiracy.

This is what the CBI says:

It is alleged in the complaint that the promoters of NDTV —Dr. Prannoy Roy, Smt Radhika Roy and M/s RRPR Holdings Pvt Ltd, acting in criminal conspiracy with unknown officials of ICICI bank, violated section 19(2) of the Banking Regulation Act, the Master Circular DBOD No. Dir B90/13.07.05/98-99 dated 28.08.1998 of the Reserve Bank of India and in furtherance of the conspiracy, ICICI bank took the entire shareholding of the promoters in NDTV (nearly 61 %) as collateral and then accepted prepayment of the loan by reducing the interest rate from 19 % p.a to nearly 9.5 % p.a and as a consequence thereof, causing a wrongful loss of ₹48 crore to ICICI bank and a corresponding wrongful gain to the promoters of NDTV — Dr. Prannoy Roy, Smt Radhika Roy and M/s RRPR Holdings Pvt Ltd.

This is not an attack on NDTV, it is free to telecast, publish and write whatever it wants, this is an raid on its promoters. Individuals and the corporate entity they run are separate, yet NYT (and other “liberal” champions) are guilty of conflating the two. By this logic, Mukesh Ambani should never face any government probe as he owns news media outlet Network18 and has substantial direct and indirect stake in other media companies too, including NDTV.

Coming back to NYT op-ed, the investigators never said that it is about causing a loss to a private bank. CBI’s press release and clarification was issued before NYT published it. Yet, it chooses to attribute wrong statements to the CBI. This exposes more about NYT’s editorial standards and journalistic ethics than press freedom in India.

But that’s not all. This is what the op-ed claims next, after wrongly claiming that CBI raids was about causing loss to a bank or defaulting on a loan payment:

“That doesn’t wash. India’s large corporations regularly default on debt with nary a peep from authorities.”

After successfully establishing a straw-man (debt vs criminal collusion), NYT furiously attacks the straw-man:

“Mr. Modi’s government has hesitated to go after big defaulters. But suddenly we have dramatic raids against the founders of an influential media company.”

Well, even though this is a straw man argument, the truth is that the Modi government has raided many just the past 6 odd months.

An indicative list:

  • 100s of raids were conducted during the demonetization period, resulting in 4,000 crores of seizures. These included raids against big shots like Janardhan Reddy and even entertainment professionals like the producer of the mega hit Baahubali.
  • IAS babus (here and here) have been raided and so have been powerful regional politicians (apart from Reddy).
  • IT officials said that December saw some of the biggest IT raids the country has ever seen.
  • The ED raided 18 IAS officials in April this year, just weeks before raids on Roys, even after the demonetisation period.
  • 34 Chartered Accountants in Delhi alone were raided the same month.
  • In April this year, premises of the Central Bank of India (a PSU) were raided by the CBI.
  • In January this year, offices of the multi billion dollar conglomerate, ETA were raided by IT officials.
  • June 2016 saw a raid on the GMR group and a big corporate lobbyist.
  • Early on in his term, the Modi government raided Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance, which owns more media than Roys. Does NYT think that Ambani is small fish?
  • Just last month, the CBI raided the offices of Essar and arrested an Essar group MD and a tax commissioner. Essar is no small fish either.

This list goes on endlessly, Mallya, Axis Bank and a whole host of others have been the target of CBI, ED or IT raids. So it is a bald faced lie to say that the government has not been taking action (so far as raids are concerned) but somehow exclusively targeting only the Roys.

Let us go back to the op-ed again, after attacking the straw-man with lies, the articles claims that the raids were carried out “years after a loan was settled to a private bank’s satisfaction”.

The lie that it is about a loan settlement is repeated, a third time.

Next it says,

“Since Mr. Modi took office in 2014, journalists have faced increasing pressures. They risk their careers — or lives — to report news that is critical of the government or delves into matters that powerful politicians and business interests do not want exposed.”

I don’t even know what to say here, this is like something some internet troll on some forum might say. Where are the facts behind such a loose and irresponsible comment? We can however do some fact checking as we have higher standards than the NYT right?

So here it is, some data from a single source, which is left-leaning and hence should be acceptable to the NYT and NDTV fans, for they hate watchdogs like OpIndia.com:

  • In 2012, 5 journalists were killed and 39 attacks reported
  • In 2013, 8 journalists were killed and 19 physical attack on journalists in India
  • In 2014, zero journalists were killed and 8 physical attacks recorded by the same watchdog.
  • In 2015, 8 journalists killed and 30 instances of physical attacks against them reported.
  • 2016 to Apr 2017 saw 50 attacks and zero deaths.

So In 2012 and 2013, 13 journalists were killed and 58 attacks recorded. From 2015 to 2017, 8 journalists were killed and 80 attacks recorded. Can you find a sudden spike in post-Modi era?

Similar trend can be seen from data of an international organisation called Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The attacks against journalists were much higher in 2013, the pre-Modi era.

If you take the Press Freedom Index, India had a rank of 80 in 2002 and by 2014, when Modi era began, it was at 140. The 2017 ranking is 136. A sudden change in post-Modi era?

Now you can disagree or agree with these indices and rankings and even one attack is too many, the fact remains that, with objective data we have on hand, the NYT’s (and other “seculiberals”) blanket assertions that the situation has become worse after May 2014 is just another big bald faced lie.

Let us read more of the NYT brilliance:

“Praveen Swami, a reporter for The Indian Express newspaper, warned on Twitter that Monday’s raids were “a defining moment,” adding: “The last time this sort of thing happened was during the Emergency,” a reference to the strict censorship of 1975-77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency and ruled as an autocrat.”

To an uninitiated American reading this, it sounds like  these two are of an equal gravity, they won’t know (but I expected the NYT editorial staff to know better), but during the Emergency, Indira government had censors sitting in the offices of newspapers, editing on the spot content, to ensure only what was approved by censors was printed.

Editors and journalists were outright arrested (the Roys are still out free, and not in jail) for going against the government. The control over the press was so tight that even a massacre in the heart of Delhi (Turkman gate massacre) was not reported by the Indian media. To equate raids for alleged criminal collusion and the draconian censorship and controlled during the emergency is not just false, it is downright dangerous.

In all this, the article does not say a word about the financial dealings (possibly illegal) of the Roys, nor does it mention the FEMA violations by the Roys, nor does it say a word about how NDTV and the Roys steadfastly refused to declare their investor details during the UPA era. Is it not journalistic propriety to cover all angles to a story?

But what would we know, we are not the great NYT.

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