Posts Tagged ‘Bennett Coleman & Co’

Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

24 April 2009

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SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: A nice little question mark hangs over Times Private Treaties, the controversial investment arm of The Times of India group, after India’s stock market regular yesterday barred 230 persons/entities from dealing in the securities market following their “prima facie” involvement in a forgery scam involving Pyramid Saimira Theatre Limited, an entertainment company which owns movie halls.

Pyramid Saimira is a Times Private Treaty (TPT) client—and one of the 230 persons/entities barred is Rajesh Unnikrishnan, an assistant editor of The Economic Times, the business daily published by The Times group.

Those debarred, including the two promoters of the company, were allegedly involved in forging a letter in December last year and passing it off as a letter from the Securities and Exchanges Board of India (SEBI) to manipulate Pyramid Saimira‘s stock, resulting in subtantial losses to investors.

The forged SEBI letter, asked one of the promoters P.S. Saminathan, chairman and managing director of Pyramid Saimira, to make an open offer for an additional 20 per cent stake at a price not less than Rs 250 at a time when the company was quoting around a fourth of that price.

The other promoter Nirmal Kotecha had sold over 15 lakh shares on Monday, December 22, the day some newspapers published a story based on the forged letter.

The Economic Times‘ Unnikrishnan, according to the SEBI order, played a key role  “played a key role in the forgery, dissemination of information and misleading the media to believe its authenticity”, along with Rakesh Sharma, then an executive with the PR firm, Adfactors, who helped circulate the forged SEBI letter to three of his friends in the media.

In 2008, Adfactors and The Times of India group together floated a public relations firm called Tatva, a 67:33 joint venture between the PR firm and the newspaper.

According to SEBI, Rakesh Sharma of Adfactors and Rajesh Unnikrishnan of ET were colleagues at Business Standard.

“These persons/entities prima facie have been found to have played a key role in the forgery, dissemination of the information contained in the forged Sebi letter to the media and misleading the media to believe the authenticity of the information that was circulated to them. They also derived illegal profits,” SEBI said in its 54-page order.

According to the Sebi order, the tower location of the mobile telephones used by Sharma, Kotecha and Unnikrishnan indicated the three met on December 20, around the time when the forged letter was circulated to the media.

Sharma, whose service was terminated by Adfactors on December 23, had in a statement to SEBI which he later retracted, also admitted that Unnikrishnan and he went to Kotecha’s residence to mail the forged letter to “media friends.”

Asked for a comment by Indian Express (which owns Financial Express where Rajesh Unnikrishnan worked earlier), on the involvement of a staffer in the scam, Rahul Joshi, executive editor of The Economic Times, said:

“We have seen the order. We are studying it.”

In an article on the ethics of the private treaties, India’s most famous business investigative journalist Sucheta Dalal, a former Times employee, had quoted from a 2007 letter from Rahul Joshi to his colleagues:

“At ET, we are carving out a separate team to look into the needs of Private Treaty clients. Every large centre will have a senior editorial person to interface with Treaty clients. In turn, the senior edit person will be responsible, along with the existing team, for edit delivery. This team will have regional champions along with one or two reporters for help—but more importantly, they will liaise with REs (Resident Editors) and help in integrating the content into the different sections of the paper. In this way, we will be able to incorporate PT into the editorial mainstream, rather than it looking like a series of press releases appearing in vanilla form in the paper.”

The Private Treaties, in which The Times Group picks up stakes in up and coming companies in return for guaranteed advertising and editorial exposure, has been a contentious affair in the company, and contributed to rumours surrounding the resignation of The Times of India‘s then executive editor Jaideep Bose aka JoJo last April.

The Economic Times carried an ET bureau report of the debarment of Rajesh Unnikrishnan, calling him an “employee” of ET but without referring to his editorial duties.

There was no mention of the scandal in The Times of India.

The Times group’s main competitor in Bombay, DNA, played a key role in unearthing the scam, with DNA Money special correspondent N. Sundaresha Subramanian churning out story after story.

Photo montage: courtesy DNA

Also read: Business journalism or the journalism of business?

Salil Tripathi: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Supreme Court notice toCNBC-TV18 analyst

Sushma Ramachandran: Corruption in business journalism

Indian media is large & vibrant, but how free is it?

11 January 2009

KPN photo

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes from Houston, Texas: Every newspaper reader in India should be shocked at the way B. V. Seetharam, the publisher and editor of the Kannada daily Karavali Ale, is being repeatedly harassed by a democratically elected  government in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

According to this version, Seetharam was arrested last week in a defamation case filed by Bhoja Shetty, a resident of Udupi district, in July 2007. Shetty alleged that Seetharam tried to “blackmail” him for a financial consideration of Rs 1 lakh [approximately $2,000]. When that did not come, the editor reportedly portrayed him as a “rapist” in his newspaper, resulting in the defamation charge.

The charge is certainly serious, doesn’t show journalism in good light, and deserves to be taken to its logical conclusion.

But it is the backdrop of Seetharam’s arrest (a few months after the BJP came to power in Karnataka); the timing of the arrest (after he had accused Hindutva forces of attacking his newspaper for publishing); and the manner in which he has been handcuffed and chained like a common criminal, and taken from city to city (he is currently lodged in the Mysore jail), that should make the world sit up and take notice.

We assume, wrongly, that India has a free and vibrant press with unbridled freedom.

We assume, again wrongly, that India’s newspapers have the full and unfettered freedom to expose individual or institutional malfeasance, in politics, business and other spheres of public life.

In the event the press fails to expose the corrupt practices of politicians or businessmen—like, say, the gigantic Rs 7,000 fraud of Satyam Computer Services—we think it is only because the press is not using its freedom and does not have the courage to stand against the big government or deep pocketed companies.

That is largely true, of course, but B.V. Seetharam’s plight shows that is not necessarily the full story in the minefield that is Indian democracy.

The truth is there are plenty of people who do not want negative stories to come out, and are willing to go any distance and adopt any means to ensure that. And there are plenty of people, inside and outside the corridors of power, who are willing to help them in that endeavour.

B.V. Seetharam’s case is an example.

While we may question Seetharam’s methods and targets based on our individual preferences and prejudices, it must be admitted that he also published articles exposing the wrong doings of corrupt politicians, incompetent bureaucrats, and dishonest businessmen, among others. More recently, he has turned his eyes on the growing communalism on the west coast.

What we are witnessing through his arrest is that in a surcharged milieu, this can be a lonely battle—and very, very messy.

In a political system where the use of extra-constitutional muscle power seems to sit comfortably well with rule-based democracy, an editor like him is bound to have enemies. Such individuals are harassed by the establishment to send a strong signal to others not to follow his example.

Seetharam’s victimisation is a sign of that.

This is not the first time Seetharam has been punished by taking him into custody. Many may recall the way he was whisked away to jail along with his wife in the middle of the night for publishing a story questioning the propriety of Jain monks to walk around naked in public in 2007.

While the solidarity shown by the press to Seetharam’s harsh treatment should be admired, we, the public, should wonder why only one section of society has expressed disgust at the treatment meted out to him. What is involved is the freedom of the press to boldly publish the news without fear and favour. Without such freedom, democracy will lose out as it has been happening in India.

Every citizen irrespective of his/ her ideology should condemn the treatment doled out to B.V. Seetharam.

Photograph: Journalists take part in a protest against the arrest of B.V. Seetharam in Bangalore on Wednesday. (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind’

Mangalore editor held for ‘inciting’ hate

Pseudonymous author spells finis to Mint editor?

Is management responsible for content too?

4 January 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Can a newspaper (or magazine or website) publish anything in the name of a “debate”? Is such content questionable even when it does not directly spark trouble on the ground? And, in the eyes of the law, who is to be held responsible for the publication of such content?

These are old questions in journalism, but they gain added significance in the wake of police in the communally sensitive coastal city of Mangalore taking cognisance of two separate complaints against Vijaya Karnataka, a Kannada newspaper owned by The Times of India group, for two different articles published on two different dates.

Besides the overall editor of the paper, the resident editor, and the author of the piece, the police have registered a complaint against the directors of the Times of India subsidiary that publishes Vijaya Karnataka, in the second of the two cases. They have been charged with “spreading hatred” among the people and “disturbing peace in society”, both non-bailable offences under two different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Ironically, churches, convents and prayer halls in Mangalore and other parts of Karnataka had been attacked in September last year after Hindutva activists stumbled upon Christian literature (Satya Darshini) that allegedly mocked Hindu gods. This was deemed to be offensive to Hindus and the violence was sought to be justified in the name of the perceived injury to Hindu sentiment.

The boot is now on the other foot.

***

The first case is pretty straight forward and has been widely reported. On 27 December 2008, the Mangalore South police station, registered a case (FIR No 343, dated 27-12-2008) in connection with an article written by the noted Kannada author S.L. Bhyrappa in Vijaya Karnataka on 16 October 2008.

The case was registered on a complaint filed by P. B. D’Sa, president of the Dakshina Kannada unit of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

In his complaint, D’Sa alleged the article titled ‘Inthaha ghatane bere yava deshadalli nadedeethu‘ (In which other country would such an incident take place?) incited communal feelings, in the wake of the attack on churches in Karnataka in September last year.

Apparently, the article by Bhyrappa cast doubts on “the integrity of Mother Teresa and a number of other Christian saints in reference to their contribution to humanity. The complaint said the article had hurt the feelings of Christians, and pointed to a number of demonstrations and jathas taken out by Christians against it.

The local diocese had termed the article “communally provocative” when it was published.

The first complaint named Vijaya Karnataka‘s editor Vishweshwar Bhat, its Mangalore edition resident editor U.K. Kumaranath, and printer and publisher, K.R. Ramesh, besides Bhyrappa.

***

But it is the second complaint, booked by the Mangalore North police six days later, on 2 January 2009, that is drawing the attention of ToI bosses in Bombay and Delhi.

This case (FIR No. 2, dated 2-1-2009) deals with an article written by Pratap Simha, a sub-editor with the paper who writes a weekly column titled Betthale Jagaththu (naked world) every Saturday on the editorial page, and published on 20 September 2008.

The complainant in this case is James Louis, vice-president of the Bharathiya Crista Seva Sanghatane (BCSS). And here, too, the charges are identical: of endorsing the bashing of the minority community and seeking to create discord among various communities.

Predictably, the author of the article (Simha), the editor of the paper (Bhat), the resident editor (Kumaranath) and the printer (Ramesh) have been named in this complaint. But also standing “accused” are five directors of Vijayanand Printers Limited (VPL), the Times of India subsidiary that publishes the paper: Ravi Dhariwal, Chinnen Das, Anand Sankeshwar, Bhaskar Das, and Probal Ghoshal.

Those who have seen the complaint say it does not mention why the ToI directors have been named as accused. All it says is that they are all responsible for the publication of the article.

The complaint refers to objectionable parts of the article ‘Haagantha helidavanu yaava Bajarangiyu alla‘ (the person who said so is not a Bajrang Dal man) and alleges that the article is a “deliberate” attempt to instigate the sentiments of the Hindu community against the Christian community and to create hatred towards Christians.

The complaint raises objections to paragraphs 6, 11 and 12 and says it can “poison the minds of the readers and hurt the sentiments of Christians.

In particular, it objects to the question “How will Christ help the people when he couldn’t help himself?” and the statement “Who will keep silent when offensive statements are made about their religion and is attacked?

This, according to the complainant, justifies the attacks on the churches and prayer halls in Karnataka, coming as they did shortly after the Christian community was targeted in Kandhamal in Orissa.

It says paragraph 12 particularly instigates the people against the Christian community and justifies all the violence reported against minorities. Apparently the article in question contained the statement, “do not keep quiet when someone comes to your locality with the intention of conversion. Receive the books that they give and then teach them a lesson“.

The case against the author, editors, printer and directors has been registered under section 153, 153A, 153B and 295A read with section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Section 153 of IPC reads: “Wantonly giving provocation with the intent to cause riot—if rioting be committed, if not committed.” Section 153A reads: “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.” Section 153B reads: “Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration.”

Section 295 saying injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class has to be read with the IPC section 34 which says: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.

***

Media observers say the mere filing of FIRs against the editor, printer, publisher, author/s and directors of the company alleging a plot to disturb communal amity does not amount to much, especially when the attack on the churches preceded the date of publication.

Moreover, the police have to investigate the complaints and only later contemplate or take further action.

PUCL’s D’Sa who accompanied the second complainant to the police station has been quoted as saying that the police inspector told them he would investigate whether the article did create any “negative ripples” in society. That is easier said than done.

But it is the attempt to implicate the directors in the case that is eliciting attention. Are the directors, all of them non-journalists, responsible for the publication of the content when four of the five directors cannot speak, read, write or understand the Kannada language?

Or is this just an attempt to cause pin pricks to them because a mainstream, mass-circulation Kannada publication owned by the country’s largest print media house is seen to have become the inhouse journal of the Hindutva herd?

Or is the management of a media house only answerable for the bottomline, regardless of how it is editorially achieved?

***

The two cases should also be viewed against the backdrop of Mangalore emerging as a vortex of communalism into which journalists have not just been sucked in but are active players and participants.

On either side of the communal divide on the west coast, leading publications have played a not inconsiderable role in whipping up the surcharged communal atmosphere with inflammatory headlines and incendiary content. The circulations are soaring, but the faultline is growing wider and wider.

Trucks carrying Karavali Ale, a Kannada newspaper published from Mangalore, were attacked last month and its copies burnt allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists for its criticism of their role in the attack on the churches in September. The Press Council of India has had to intervene after the local police refused to register the paper’s complaints.

In March 2007, the paper’s editor B.V. Seetharam was arrested on the ground that his writings promoted religious hatred. Seetharam was arrested under Sections 153A, 153 B and 295A of the IPC—all non-bailable offences.

Ironically, the Vijaya Karnataka editors, the authors, and ToI directors have been booked under the same sections of the IPC.

But the larger question is of the role of the media in creating the ground for “public debate” on a sensitive issue like “conversions”.

Is the publication of any kind of content OK in the name of a public debate? Is it really the business of the media to maintain communal and societal peace and harmony, or is it of the “State”? Is it beyond the function of a newspaper or a writer to provoke readers because somebody might find it offensive?

If Christian literature published decades ago can be suddenly ferreted out and declared offensive to Hindus, are Christians wrong in finding offence in yesterday’s newspaper? Is it wrong for Muslims to feel offence if the Danish cartoons are republished in the name of “debate”?

Who was that genius who said an eye for an eye only makes the whole world go blind?

Sucheta Dalal in public row on private treaties

29 June 2008

The true depth of an employer-employee relationship is never quite revealed during the course of the latter’s employment, generally speaking. It is only after the two have parted ways, when the two parties take their gloves off and shadow-box each other, does it become clear whether it was good cohabitation or a charade.

India’s bestknown business investigative journalist, Sucheta Dalal, left India’s largest English daily, The Times of India, several years ago, after a nine-year stint during which she also played a stellar role in unravelling the securities scam involving the now deceased Harshad Mehta.

Since her departure from the paper, Dalal has moved to other things, writing columns and books, setting up a magazine. In recent times, she has played an important role in exposing the “private treaties” of her former employer that has eaten into the vitals of media ethics in boom-time.

Now, ToI has hit back, below the belt.

In an interview with Nikhil Pahwa‘s newly launched medianama, S. Sivakumar, the CEO-designate of ToI’s private treaties division, is asked about a November 2007 letter from Economic Times editor Rahul Joshi that Dalal quoted in an article, that firmly established how the private treaties were casting a dark shadow over the group’s editorial sanctity.

Sivakumar’s response:

“Because you have an agenda. You know Sucheta was working with us… I don’t know whether you know it or not, but she was working with us and I didn’t want to talk abot the Harshad Mehta scam, since you are recording, I didn’t want to go on aboUt that. There’s a lot of background, and under what circumstances she left the organisation.” (emphasis added)

The defamatory insinuation has justly got Dalal (who was given the Femina Woman of Substance award for the expose) fuming.

In response, she writes back:

“I have a letter from the company to say “we treasure” your association with us when I left the Times of India. Do they hand out such letters to all and sundry? It may also interest people to know that Ashok Jain, the late Chairman of the Times Group, had asked me to draft a Code of Ethics for journalists—maybe that too was part of their poor judgement.”

Warned of “recourse”, Sivakumar has sent a clarification:

“As a policy we never comment on any of our employees either currently  working with us or had worked with us in the past…. We as an organisation respect all journalists.”

Sivakumar’s offensive comments have been struck through, and comments disallowed for the piece.

Read the full exchange: ‘There are two currencies for advertising: cash and treaties’

Also read: Forget the news, you can’t trust the ads either

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

Network 18 rejects no-poaching pact with Times

27 April 2008

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: In what is being interpreted as a sharpening of knives before the next round of The Great Indian Print Media Battle, Raghav Bahl‘s Network 18 is said to have summarily rejected a proposal for an informal “no-poaching agreement” floated by the country’s biggest media group, Bennett, Coleman & Co which publishes The Times of India and Economic Times.

Tens of Times journalists have been eyeing Network 18 after the group unveiled plans for an Indian edition of Forbes magazine and the Financial Times. With ToI executive editor Jaideep Bose, aka JoJo, being mentioned as a possible editor of FT, the Times group is understandably apprehensive of a newsroom exodus and an exponential increase in costs to retain talented staff.

(Senior staff at ET have received hefty hikes as high as 50 per cent in recent weeks but it is not proving to be enough for the privately-held Times group despite its deep pockets to keep its flock together. Network 18 is a listed company.)

ToI brand director Rahul Kansal is reported to have sought a meeting with Bahl and Network 18 CEO Haresh Chawla last week to enter into a no-poaching agreement after the exit-JoJo rumours surfaced. With the Times group planning a business television channel to exploit the Economic Times brand image (which could see reverse traffic from CNBC-TV18) Kansal thought he had it all firmly sewn up.

But Network 18, whose print ambitions against the might of the Times group hinges on attracting top-flight business journalism talent, is believed to have nipped the proposal in the bud.

The Times group had entered into a tribal no-poaching pact with the Hindustan Times in an earlier skirmish for the Delhi market. The logic was that both groups would benefit by not trying to poach staff from the other, thus keeping journalists’ salaries in check. The two companies even set up a joint venture to bring out the tabloid Metro Now. But the only winner in the bargain has been the Times group.

Aware of that precedent, the Bahl-Chawla rejected ToI‘s no-poaching overture outright.

“Kansal called and sought a formal meeting with Bahl and Chawla. But knowing what was coming, the two declined even to meet. Let’s meet for a drink if you like, but as far as a no-poaching agreement, it’s a no-no from our side was the signal,” says a Network 18 source in the know.

Meanwhile, as its executive editor’s fate hangs in the balance, the Times group is pulling out all stops to stymie Network 18‘s FT venture. One publisher, who brings out a slew of business magazines, says senior Times functionaries have approached him to join a publishers’ lobby to thwart the entry of foreign titles such Forbes (from Network 18) and Fortune (from Ananda Bazaar Patrika).

“Who are the Times folk fooling by wanting to oppose Forbes or Fortune when they are not even in the magazine space? Their real target is Financial Times,” says the publisher.

The Times group (along with The Hindu) has long been at the forefront of the opposition to the entry of foreign publications and foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Indian media.

It had launched a weekly supplement titled Financial Times in the early 1990s to prevent Pearson from setting foot in India in collaboration with T.N. Ninan‘s Business Standard. After a long court case, when FDI upto 26 per cent was allowed in the print media, FT invested in Business Standard hoping to take the association forward.

But FT pulled out recently and got into a tieup with Network 18, which is what is giving the Times group the heebie-jeebies.

Also read: The dream paper

FT India: The buzz is rising

Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

9 January 2008

The selling of the news columns in Indian newspapers, a pernicious practice that deliberately blurs the distinction between independently generated news and paid advertisements, has assumed pandemic proportions with language publications unabashedly apeing the market-leader The Times of India, which pioneered the move.

But, it now turns out that even paid advertisements are no longer what they seem in the Times group. Very often, they are tied to the group’s investments in select companies. The news and advertising exposure these companies get in its publications, boosts their stock prices, that swells the bottomline of the investing company.

It’s a win-win but guess who loses?

SUCHETA DALAL, India’s numero uno business investigative journalist who cracked open the Harshad Mehta case, and who now runs the personal finance magazine MoneyLIFE, throws light on a new strategy of the group that “tears down every shred of the wall between editorial, advertising and public relations”, and takes readers and investors for a royal ride.

***

By SUCHETA DALAL

If you are an investor who depends on India’s largest-selling economic newspaper for unbiased news, then you must know and understand the concept of “private treaties” (PT). Since The Times of India (TOI) far outsells every other English newspaper and The Economic Times is by far the market leader in the economic news category, the concept is of universal interest.

Although PTs sound like agreements between two sovereign nations, they are, in fact, pacts between the Times of India group and approximately 100-odd companies, under which TOI buys shares of small and fast-growing companies. The list is expanding rapidly.

In an article for India-Seminar on “The changing Indian media scene“, T.N. Ninan, editor of Business Standard, described PTs as “basically the transfer of shares in return for advertising.” He said, Bennett Coleman & Co, which owns the Times of India group of publications, “invests in usually mid-rung companies that are keen to jump into the big league but are perhaps without the big bucks to spend on marketing. The share purchase money is immediately taken back against the promise of guaranteed advertising in Bennett publications—to build the investee company’s brand(s). Part of the deal is even said to be editorial coverage, though this remains unconfirmed.”

Ninan goes on to say, “If true, by definition, this will have to be positive coverage” because “the brands have to be built up, so that the shares bought by Bennett gain in value and can be sold.”

Well, reports of guaranteed editorial coverage are no longer “unconfirmed”, as Ninan put it.

MoneyLIFE has in its possession a document to prove that journalists are being designated as “champions” for PT clients to tailor editorial coverage to enhance the value of these companies and TOI‘s investment.

An e-mail by The Economic Times editor Rahul Joshi (dated 29 November 2007) says:

“At ET, we are carving out a separate team to look into the needs of Private Treaty clients. Every large centre will have a senior editorial person to interface with Treaty clients. In turn, the senior edit person will be responsible, along with the existing team, for edit delivery. This team will have regional champions along with one or two reporters for help—but more importantly, they will liaise with REs (Resident Editors) and help in integrating the content into the different sections of the paper. In this way, we will be able to incorporate PT into the editorial mainstream, rather than it looking like a series of press releases appearing in vanilla form in the paper.”

Joshi then goes on to name the PT “champions” for each region, who will “advise” the regional editorial chief to carry ‘stories’ about PT clients. He also designates “trouble shooters” in each region, probably to ensure that no PT client is offended with negative coverage.

While this kind of support for advertisers in the editorial pages is extraordinary anywhere in the world, it is important to remember that there is nothing clandestine about what TOI is doing. The PT arrangement, along with all the “benefits” that would accrue to those who sign up, along with testimonials from successful PT customers such as Nirmal Jain of India Infoline and others is on two group websites. These are www.privatetreaties.com and timesprivatetreaties.com.

In the past two years, TOI has invested over $500 million (approximately Rs 2,000 crore) in 114-odd companies in diverse businesses. It is a private equity firm.

TOI claims that when these companies are mentioned editorially, its investment in them is mentioned. Indeed, one occasionally notes such a mention, but how many investors understand what PT stands for or the relationship that is implied? Moreover, while such a disclaimer may work when a press release is published, will it be followed when journalist “champions” work hard to “integrate the content” to ensure that it does not look like “vanilla” press releases?

Typically, the Times group buys a 5%-10% stake in mid-sized companies that are planning to go public or looking for private equity. The investment can vary from Rs 10 crore to Rs 100 crore. The company agrees to invest an equal amount in advertising in Times publications over a three-to-five-year period at a steep discount to the normal advertising rates.

Most companies that sign PTs are those planning public issues, selling expensive realty projects or looking for private equity. All of them are looking for publicity and an assurance of positive editorial coverage. For the Times, it is usually a double bonanza: significant capital appreciation and tax-free income (since there is no long-term capital gains tax)—on the other hand, advertising revenue is fully taxed.

Investors must know the exact list of Times PT clients (which is available on their website for easy reference) because you are least likely to hear any bad news about these companies. They include:

# Deccan Aviation
# Sobha Builders
# India Infoline
# Emaar MGF
# Celebrity Fashion Ltd
# The Home Store
# Amity Education
# Media Video Ltd
# Vishal Retail Pvt Ltd
# Zicom
# Ezeegol.com
# Avesthagen
# Bartronics Ltd
# Paramount Airways
# Almondz
# Archies
# Future Group
# Thyrocare
# Raja Rani Travels
# Sahara One
# Percept Pictures, etc.

It offers “advertising support, branding support and corporate image development.”

PT’s vision is stated as follows:

# We dare to go where no one has dreamt of venturing before.
# We seek advertising clients that no one wants.
# We look for value that no one sees.
# We co-create wealth that no one imagines.

All this is fine from the business perspective of the Times. Where does the group’s “win-win relationship” with PT customers leave the readers/investors? They clearly do not figure in the equation at all. The group indeed tests the limits in what passes off as news, but in the cut-throat fight for the advertising buck, what exactly is an “advertising client that no one wants”? Surely, not India Infoline?

The PT website lists every press release issued on behalf of PT clients. The headlines alone reveal the slant. For instance:

# ‘Skyscrapers all set to change Noida skyline’ (TOI)
# ‘Milk & Honey Towns’ (ET)
# ‘Companies rake in big moolah serving NRIs’
# ‘Sai Info to come up with 18 e-malls by March’
# ‘Airline mergers is bad news for consumers’ (for Paramount Airlines)
# ‘What you get is exactly what you have paid for’ (for Gitanjali)
# ‘Parajia has ability to swing big deals’ (for India Infoline)
# ‘Gitanjali Lifestyle to ride high on luxury’
# ‘Reason to Smile’ (for GTL, earlier Global Telesystems)
# ‘Pantaloons rolls out the red carpet to woo the last minute Durga Puja shopper in Kolkata’
# ‘Bajaj bros resume legal battle over empire’ (this one for Bajaj Hindusthan is particularly interesting) and finally check this one for Osian—‘India’s brush with soccer is all set for a change. History is being re-written on a new canvas and the view looks optimistic’.

This unique “win-win” situation indeed works wonderfully well in a monster bull run. While companies and the publishing group are the real winners, the investors are losing nothing at the moment. But remember this is a two-year-old concept and the implications of tearing down every shred of the wall between editorial, advertising and PR will be evident only when things look less sunny for the markets and the economy.

Photograph: courtesy suchetadalal.com

***

Crossposted on churumuri.com

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