On June 5, India's Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) conducted a series of raids targeting NDTV, one of the country's relatively liberal-leaning TV networks that has been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

The CBI says the raids were part of an investigation into the repayment of bank loans taken out by the network's owners. However, NDTV's cofounder, Prannoy Roy, calls it a thinly disguised witch-hunt orchestrated by Modi's Bharatiya Janata party, the BJP.

When push comes to shove, what the government wants is 100 percent compliance, and if you offer 20 percent compliance, or 30 percent compliance in the hope that this will get the monkey off your back, it's not going to work.

Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor, The Wire

In a country that has 900 television channels, just a handful major corporate owners dominate a market increasingly aligned to the BJP and Modi, creating what many are calling a deficit of critical voices on the airwaves and a surplus of pro-government ones.

Editors and journalists around India call the NDTV raid a "defining moment" - a political attack on the network and on press freedom in times that have proven difficult for the media across the country.

Three days before government investigators raided offices affiliated with NDTV's owners, an on-air confrontation took place between an anchor and a BJP spokesperson who accused the network of having an "agenda". The presenter took offence and kicked him off her programme.

"It was really quite an unprecedented moment on Indian television, because we have never seen an anchor take on the spokesperson of a ruling party in this manner and actually ask them to leave," says Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of The Wire.

"I'm not saying that prompted the government to send the Central Bureau of Investigation, but what it tells us is that this is a much more independently functioning channel. And the government the ruling party, doesn't like it."

However, not everyone sees the NDTV raid as a threat to press freedom.

"I think NDTV painted itself as the victim ... NDTV are not being gagged. They continue to broadcast even today. So where is the gag? There is no gag here," says R Jagannathan, editor, Swarajya magazine.

This is not the first time NDTV has found itself at odds with the Modi government. Last year, the network's Hindi language channel was threatened with a 24-hour blackout after allegedly broadcasting "strategically sensitive information" relating to "anti-terror" operations.

Indian media watchers say the English language channel took note and has since taken a more cautious approach - to the point of sometimes self-censoring. If that was the case, apparently it didn't work.

"The lesson from this is that, don't bother self-censoring, don't bother pulling your punches, because it isn't going to help you," says Varadarajan. "When push comes to shove, what the government wants is 100 percent compliance, and if you offer 20 percent compliance, or 30 percent compliance in the hope that this will get the monkey off your back, it's not going to work. And I think that this is really the lesson not just for NDTV, but for the rest of us."

Contributors:

Anuradha Dutt, lawyer, NDTV
Madhu Trehan, editor, Newslaundry
Siddharth Varadarajan, journalist, editor, and academic
Mrinal Pande, chairperson, The Media Foundation
R Jagannathan, editor, Swarajya magazine

Source: Al Jazeera