What NDTV conceals
In its news report on 16 January 2014, media outlet NDTV claimed the following:
A Senior Income Tax Commissioner – Sanjay Srivastava – has made history as the first income tax commissioner to be sentenced to jail for contempt by the Delhi High Court. [Emphasis added]
That widespread corruption exists at the highest levels in all Government institutions in India is an established fact. The IRS is no exception to this.
A Times of India report dated 1 December 2005 mentions that
Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officers head the chart when it comes to corruption cases booked by the CBI. In 2004-05, at least 79 IRS officers were booked by the agency.
Equally, the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions’ press release of 6 December 2012 shows that during the period of 2009-2012, a total of 48 IRS officers had various cases of corruption booked against them.
In 2011, K Chandrika, an Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, Bangalore was sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined for accepting a bribe.
In 2013, Anup Ranjan Rai an IRS officer was sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5,000 was imposed on him. He was also dismissed from service.
From the above instances, it is clear that at least two IRS officers have been sent to jail on corruption charges, and both their respective imprisonments, precede S K Srivastava’s imprisonment in January 2014.
Also, NDTV’s claim that S K Srivastava is the first IRS officer to spend 15 days in jail for contempt is merely a play on words to play up the contempt-of-court charge. It also appears from a Google search (as well as a search on NDTV website itself) that NDTV hasn’t reported the conviction of Anup Ranjan Rai for a far serious offence of corruption than Srivastava’s. The point here is not to condone Srivastava’s contempt of court but to examine the reason NDTV played up Srivastava’s 15-day jail sentencing.
S K Srivastava has an ongoing legal battle with NDTV as explained by this Manushi article. In response, NDTV sent a legal notice to Madhu Purnima Kishwar, the author of the article and the head of Manushi. The NDTV case was also taken up by well-respected veterans in public life like Ram Jethmalani and S. Gurumurthy who directly wrote to NDTV head Prannoy Roy on the issue.
One of the key elements of the NDTV affair concerns the charge of sexual harassment levelled against S K Srivastava who allegedly harassed two of his female subordinates, Ashima Neb and Sumana Sen. Of these two, Sumana Sen was the Income Tax Assessing Officer of NDTV and all its group companies. She is the wife of Abhisar Sharma who was an employee of NDTV till 2007. This document explains the complete legal implications and other crucial aspects.
Another key element is the fact that the office of the Dispute Resolution Panel (DRP) of the IT department has issued an order which proposes taxing NDTV to the tune of Rs 897.27 crores of unassessed income.
These then are some of the crucial and serious facts that NDTV has concealed from public in its reportage of the Srivastava episode. Further, as a large media house purportedly practicing ethical journalism, it has failed to give full disclosure about Abhisar Sharma and his wife Sumana Sen, and the fact of that it has received a the DRP notice. Instead, it has threatened Madhu Kishwar by sending a legal notice. In her own words:
I’m accused of not having taken their version into account. But I relied on ongoing court cases and documents; mine was not an opinion piece. Did NDTV take into account Srivastava’s version when they run a news article on this issue on 16 January 2014? In that news report they did not even disclose their own vested interest, including the entrenched commercial interest of NDTV in the matter.
The notice also conceals the order dated 31/12/2013 of the Dispute Resolution Panel of Income Tax Department – a statutory authority – which has upheld the findings of money laundering by the Assessing Officer to the extent of Rs 900 crores in one year alone (2009-2010).
This legal notice to Madhu Kishwar is reminiscent of a similar tactic of legal intimidation that NDTV group editor Barkha Dutt indulged in by sending a legal notice to a hapless blogger Chaitanya Kunte who wrote a blog critical of her.
As a very vocal member of the Fourth Estate, the least one can expect from NDTV is fair and full disclosure, and an open mind to accept criticism instead of trying to muzzle independent voices through legal intimidation.