CBI’s response to NYT’s editorial does more harm than good to press freedom | opinion$Comment | Hindustan Times
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CBI’s response to NYT’s editorial does more harm than good to press freedom

CBI has no jurisdiction or competence to answer questions of editorial propriety either in the foreign press or the Indian press. Its rambling response further erodes its credibility and is inappropriate to say the least

opinion Updated: Jun 16, 2017 15:09 IST
Lalita Panicker
That India has a robust and independent judiciary that protects democratic freedom hardly needs any reiteration by the CBI nor is it relevant to the editorial which speaks of intimidation of the press (Representative Photo)
That India has a robust and independent judiciary that protects democratic freedom hardly needs any reiteration by the CBI nor is it relevant to the editorial which speaks of intimidation of the press (Representative Photo)(Mujeeb Faruqui/HT)

‘Our institutions and traditions are nurtured by our rich and diverse cultural heritage and democratic ethos’ — this is part of the rather astounding response by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to an editorial in the New York Times that referred to the alarming levels of intimidation of the news media in India with reference to the recent raids on the homes and offices of Prannoy Roy, the founder of the television channel NDTV. Whatever the merits or demerits of the NDTV case, the CBI is hardly qualified to respond to an editorial in a foreign newspaper and tell it that ‘India’ does not require any lesson in freedom of the press from it.

The CBI has no jurisdiction or competence to answer questions of editorial propriety either in the foreign press or the Indian press. Its rambling response in which it takes upon itself the role of a government spokesperson further erodes its credibility and is inappropriate to say the least. The CBI is an investigative agency and to take on a case for press freedom and rail against an editorial should not be in its remit. In fact, with this ham-handed response from a CBI spokesman, the issue of intimidation and vendetta, which the government is being accused of, gets further attention and credence.

The government of India has several competent bodies that can answer a foreign editorial or report which is seen as negative. The ministry of external affairs has a huge press and protocol wing, the Press Information Bureau has competent officials and it is they who should be doing this job.

The CBI has no experience in dealing with such matters and indeed it should stick to its core competence. That India has a robust and independent judiciary that protects democratic freedom hardly needs any reiteration by the CBI nor is it relevant to the editorial which speaks of intimidation of the press.

If the editorial is deemed to be one-sided, there are proper channels in which the government’s point of view can be conveyed, but certainly not through the very organisation that conducted the raid. This sort of response and out-of-turn remarks does nothing to bolster the credibility of either the CBI or indeed the government. The CBI has in past too been accused by sections of the Indian media of acting in a less than impartial manner. Does this mean that any organisation which is criticised should feel that it has the competence and legitimacy to take on those criticising it? And bringing in Indian culture and heritage on an issue dealing with press freedom is farcical to put it kindly.

The very wording of the rebuttal shows a level of amateurishness and lack of focus. This does more harm than good if its intention was to rush to the defence of the government. The CBI does not have to state the obvious, that it “fully respects the freedom of the press”. In which case, it ought not to have rushed in with this counter to the NYT which has the full freedom to say what it thinks fit.

The NDA should pull up the CBI for overstepping its limits. It should get on with its job of prosecuting cases of financial impropriety without fear or favour instead of taking on roles which are out of its ken and for which it is certainly not qualified.

@LalitaPanicker