The Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday sought to clarify its decision on carrying out raids against NDTV bosses saying the agency respects freedom of press and the action was taken as per the due process of law.
The statement comes in the wake of various media organisations, including the much-powerful Editors Guild of India, expressing deep concern over the raids conducted by the CBI on the offices of NDTV and its promoters.
"Entry of police and other agencies into the media offices is a serious matter," the Editors Guild statement had said after the raids on Monday.
In an unusually lengthy statement, the agency said it has not conducted any search on the registered office of NDTV, media studio, news room or premises connected with media operations.
"The CBI fully respects the freedom of press and is committed to the free functioning of news operations," it said and clarified that the allegations under investigation are not regarding the default in loan repayment.
The allegations "relate to the wrongful gain of Rs 48 crore to the promoters -- Prannoy Roy, Radhika Roy, RRPR Holdings Pvt Ltd and a corresponding wrongful loss to the ICICI bank arising from their collusion and criminal conspiracy," the CBI said.
NDTV in its statement had termed the action of the CBI to register FIR and carry out searches at Roys' as an attempt to muzzle the media.
The ruling party politicians could not "stomach" the "independence and fearlessness" of NDTV's team and the CBI raid is merely another attempt at silencing the media," it had said.
The CBI, while advising restraint, said denigrating the allegations at this stage of probe and wrongly accusing the agency of acting under pressure is uncalled for and an attempt to malign the image of the agency.
"The investigation is being conducted as per the due process of law and under the jurisdiction of the court of law. The result of investigation will be filed before the competent court of law based on the evidence adduced during investigation," it said.
The agency said it has registered the case based on the complaint of a share holder of ICICI bank and NDTV after carrying out due diligence.
Referring to the statement of NDTV about never having defaulted on any loan, the CBI alleged that the probe would revolve around why ICICI bank took the entire shareholding of the promoters in NDTV (nearly 61 per cent) as collateral and reduced the interest rates from 19 per cent to 9.5 per cent.
Contesting NDTV's questions raised over the jurisdiction of the CBI when ICICI was a private bank, the CBI referred to an order of the Supreme Court in the case of Ramesh Gelli versus CBI of 2016 where the apex court has held that the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 are applicable to the officials of private banks.
"Therefore, CBI has jurisdiction to take up investigation of the cases of private banks," it said and assured the agency was committed to carry out the investigation expeditiously and in accordance with the due process of law.
In the meantime, a statement of Editors Guild said NDTV, in various statements, has denied any wrong doing and termed the raids as "stepping up the concerted harassment" of the news channel and an attempt to "undermine democracy and free speech" and "silence the media."
"While the Editors Guild maintains that no individuals or institution is above the law, the Guild condemns any attempt to muzzle the media and calls upon the CBI to follow the due process of law and ensure there is no interference in the free functioning of news operations," the statement said.
Press Club of India and All India Newspaper Editor's Conference also condemned the CBI raids on the NDTV.
A group of intellectuals under the banner of SAHMAT have condemned as "totally unwarranted" the CBI raid calling it "an intimidatory tactic".
The group maintained that all due procedures should be followed in cases of private complaints. It said it is of opinion that searches even without a preliminary enquiry, as stated by NDTV, is nothing but an intimidatory tactic.
"By attacking the media, the present government is undermining freedom of the press, so essential for a democratic polity," it said.
IMAGE: NDTV founder Prannoy Roy. Photograph: PTI Photo