Posts Tagged ‘CNBC-TV18’

Network 18’s right-wing swing on Caravan cover

30 November 2013

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The December issue of Caravan magazine has a 16-page cover story on how the Raghav Bahl founded Network 18 has taken a turn towards right-wing politics after its takeover by Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Industries.

Headlined ‘The Network Effect’ and written by Rahul Bhatia, who authored the Arnab Goswami profile last year, the article chronicles a number of instances to underline the group’s rightward lurch.

# First Post editor-in-chief R. Jagannathan began attending Forbes India meetings in February 2013 as part of a planned integration.

“Glancing at a sheet of paper he had arrived with, Jagannathan yelled: ‘You’re doing it wrong. Forbes is about the wealthy. It’s about right-wing politics. You guys are writing about development and poverty. If you guys don’t get it, I’m going to make sure that you do.”

***

# “Last year, CNBC TV18’s Vivian Fernandes, who co-wrote Raghav Bahl’s book, was despatched to interview Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. A person involved with the production of the interview recalled that Fernandes asked a difficult question about water conservation in Gujarat.

“Modi’s organisers had asked to see the questions before the interview, and demanded the water conservation question’s removal.

“When Fernandes sprung it on him anyway, Modi broke away from the camera and glared at a public relations executive in the room.

“‘Why is he talking like this?’ the person recalled Modi saying. ‘Are we not paying for this interview?'” The production crew realised that the interview was part of a promotion for Modi.”

***

# “In the weeks leading up to the group’s first Think India conference in April, Raghav Bahl told his management that he wanted to start a foundation called Think Right.

“CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai and deputy editor Sagarika Ghose, objected to the name, believing that it was certain to be misinterpreted. ‘they believed that ‘right’ would come to mean Hindutva, you know?’ a person involved in the discussions said.

***

# “‘There was a concerted effort to drive a large visible campaign to prop up Narendra Modi in the run-up to the Think India platform,’ former Forbes India editor Indrajit Gupta said.

Each channel, publication and website had to carry promotional material of some kind. ‘They wanted a Modi cover story from Forbes India.'”

***

# At the group’s senior management getaway in Macau in early 2013, “the editors’ mood sank further when Raghav Bahl let the large gathering know he favoured Narendra Modi as India’s next prime minister.

“Until last year, Rajdeep was the most important person here. Now after Mr Ambani, Modi is the most important person.'”

“I spoke to the editor again in the middle of November. ‘It’s serious. They have started putting indirect pressure on editors to not criticise Narendra Modi,’ the editor said. ‘I think Think India was created to promote him.'”

***

# “Early on November 9, Rajdeep Sardesai travelled to Nagpur to meet RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Two senior editors in touch with Sardesai independently confirmed that Raghav Bahl had pressed him to meet Bhagwat and other RSS leaders.

“‘Raghav is keen on promoting right-of-centre policies. He believes Indians have enterprise in our blood,’ the person involved in the decision over the Think India foundation’s naming said.”

***

# “Network 18 is not alone in its rightward swing, but as Modi’s value in the attention econmy continues to rise, no one in English-language broadcasting has traded more on his appeal than CNN-IBN.

“For four days in October and November 2013, the Centre for Media Studies, an independent thinktank in Delhi, monitored the primetime political coverage of some major English news channels.

“Of the five they surveyed, CNN-IBN covered Modi for over 72 minutes, a greater duration than anyone else. At the same time, it covered Rahul Gandhi for approximately 18 minutes.”

Also read: ‘Media’s Modi-fixation needs medical attention’

How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is effective TRP

Not just a newspaper, a no-paid-news newspaper!

Udayan Mukherjee out, Shereen Bhan in at CNBC

10 July 2013

The following is the full text of the press release issued by Network 18 of leadership changes at the group’s flagship channel, CNBC-TV18.

This comes just a few weeks after four Forbes India editors were forced out of the group.

Insiders say there is more coming as new owner Reliance Industries (RIL) seeks to stamp its footprint.  Already, the word is one top interviewer is unhappy with the renegotiation of the terms of his contract.

***

PRESS RELEASE

NETWORK18 ANNOUNCES CHANGE OF GUARD AT CNBC-TV18

“Udayan steps down as Managing Editor, to continue exclusive association with CNBC-TV18 in a new role. Shereen Bhan takes charge of editorial operations from Udayan as Managing Editor”

***

Udayan Mukherjee, managing editor, CNBC-TV18 has decided to step down from his full time role, after 15 years of service with the group.

The reasons for this change are entirely personal. Udayan has been facing issues of professional exhaustion and wants to devote more time to other pursuits of personal interest.

However, he will continue his exclusive association with the group, albeit in a contributory and consulting role, through a mix of events, shows and appearances, even as he relinquishes his daily responsibilities.

Shereen Bhan, executive editor, CNBC-TV18 will take over responsibility of the day to day running of the channel as its new Managing Editor from September 1, 2013.

***

Speaking on this development, Raghav Bahl, founder & editor, Network18 said: “Udayan has contributed to the emergence of CNBC-TV18 as a benchmark in business news since its formative years. He has ably led the team to many successes and we wish him the very best in his new avatar at CNBC-TV18. Shereen has all the skills and experience to take this mantle forward and we look forward to her leadership”

B. Sai Kumar, group CEO, Network18 said: “Udayan has been instrumental in making CNBC-TV18 the success it is today. We thank him for his invaluable contribution and look forward to his new role with us. In Shereen we entrust the task of leading CNBC-TV18 onto new levels of growth and leadership.”

Udayan Mukherjee said: “I have had a rewarding and enriching 15 year stint with Network 18, but of late the responsibility of running the channel had become repetitive and I had a difficult time motivating myself to continue. At this stage of my life, I need to devote more of my time to other personal passions and interests. CNBC-TV18 has a very talented team in place which will ensure that the channel’s high standards are maintained in the future. I wish the new editorial leadership team the very best and will try, in my limited way, to contribute to its success”

Photograph: courtesy Verve Online

Also read: Tata Steel & the suicide of Charudatta Deshpande

Tatas deny they tried to sully name of Charudatta Deshpande

The 10 bravehearts who stood up for Charudatta Deshpande

How the ‘Forbes India’ editors were forced out

6 June 2013
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Top row: Indrajit Gupta (L), Dinesh Krishnan
Bottom row: Shishir Prasad (L), Charles Assisi

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The abrupt exit last week of the top four editorial heads of the business magazine Forbes India, including of its editor Indrajit Gupta, has swung the spotlight once again on the questionable—but rarely ever questioned—human resources (HR) policies and practices in Indian media houses.

In this case, one of India’s biggest: Network 18.

On the face of it, the “termination” of services of Indrajit Gupta, and the “resignation” of managing editor Charles Assisi, director photography Dinesh Krishnan, and executive editor Shishir Prasad, might seem like a small matter—even an “internal” issue—in a company whose 2012 assets were valued at Rs 2,400 crore.

In fact, Network 18’s chief operating officer Ajay Chacko sought to paint the exits as a routine matter; almost a natural consequence of the ongoing “restructuring” in the company after First Post editor R. Jagannathan‘s leadership role was expanded in March to also overlook the print publications in the stable such as Forbes India.

“There were always going to be some redundancies after ‘Jaggi’ took over [as editor-in-chief],” Chacko told Media Nama, after reports of the sudden exits emerged, suggesting that in a converged newsroom, the presence of the four was not required.

However, a closer examination of L’affaire Forbes India, based on multiple off-the-record conversations, reveals the brazen manner in which giant Indian media companies, whose promoters flatulently pontificate on how India must be run, conduct themselves and play around with the lives of their employees and their families.

More importantly, the exits throw not-so-kind light on the pulls and pressures Indian newsrooms are facing due to growing financial pressures; how global brands which franchise their titles are dealt with by their Indian partners; and how the high-stakes game of “valuations” is getting shaped in the digital age.

Above all, that all this should have happened in a business magazine belonging to a company with two business TV channels (CNBC-TV18 and CNBC Awaaz), which is part-owned by India’s most powerful business house, Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Industries Limited, provides no small irony.

And that there is so much silence all around from the media fraternity tells its own story.

***

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The launch issue of Forbes India, 2009

Insiders at Forbes India, which was launched within four days of the UPA return to power in 2009, say there was little indication of the impending exits of M/s Gupta & Co till as recently as even a fortnight ago.

When the magazine came out with a special double issue to mark its fourth anniversary recently, SMSes and e-mails congratulating each other were being happily exchanged between the editorial and business sides.

But plenty was afoot in the boardroom of Network 18’s Matunga office in central Bombay, where Forbes India staff were now sharing the floor with their First Post colleagues, in the first baby steps towards “integration”—the creation of a combined newsroom where the website’s and magazine’s staffers would happily cohabit under editor-in-chief R. Jagannathan, “Jaggi” as he is known to friends and colleagues.

Indrajit Gupta, Charles Assisi, Dinesh Krishnan and Shishir Prasad, all key founding-members of Forbes India’s launch team, were involved in conversations with the HR side of the company, reminding them on the Employee Stock Options (ESOPs) which they had apparently been promised five years ago when they were being induced to come on board.

The quantum of the combined ESOPs is not known.

Forbes India insiders say it is about Rs 2 crore in all, split between the four; others at Network 18 say it could be a little higher but not exceeding Rs 5 crore. However, unlike in listed companies, Network 18 underwrote the value of the ESOPs. Meaning: it assured the four Forbes India staffers that it would pay the promised money at the end of four years.

Network 18 sources say about a month and a half back, the four Forbes India staffers began the process of cashing out their ESOPs, first informally, then officially.

On Friday, May 24, when they met formally with the company’s HR, they were told to forego their old ESOP scheme and presented with a new ESOP scheme.

They were given a 48-hour deadline to sign up.

However, on Monday, May 27, the HR head Shampa Kochhar, in the presence of Jagannathan, is said to have served editor Indrajit Gupta a fait accompli: resign on the spot by signing a letter that absolved the company of all claims on the five-year-old ESOPs and take a severance cheque. Or have your services terminated.

Indrajit Gupta is believed to have opted for the latter course.

The experience of the other three was no different.

They, too, were told to relinquish the old ESOP plan and presented with a new ESOP plan. And they, too, were told that they must resign on the spot or face termination with no benefits.

Unlike Gupta, Assisi, Krishnan and Prasad resigned.

(A fifth ESOP recipient, online director Deepak Ajwani, however acquiesced.)

***

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When news of the exits trickled out on Thursday, May 30, it was clear that the dirty tricks department was already at work.

Forbes editors were negotiating with a PE (private equity) fund to take over the magazine once Network 18’s franchise with Forbes expires next year. Network 18 found out and asked these editors to quit,” read one SMS this reporter has seen.

In truth, though, Network 18’s end-goal of integrating the Forbes India newsroom with the First Post newsroom seems to have been the trigger which sparked the implosion—and the ESOP scheme seems to have come in handy to force the exits.

The less charitable view within Network 18 is that the “old school” Gang of Four sought to cash out their ESOPs because of their reservations over the “integration” plan and that they were always hoping to go out this way and end up as martyrs in the eyes of the world.

# From the Forbes India perspective, integration meant its reporters reacting to breaking business news and writing for First Post, perhaps vice-versa too. It also meant getting used to having an editor-in-chief (Jagannathan) besides the editor (Indrajit Gupta).

# From the First Post perspective, integration meant the domain expertise of an established brand like Forbes India in business stories. It meant access to sources and subjects. It also meant credibility.

# From Network 18 group’s perspective, it meant a larger workforce to feed the “bottomless monster” that is the worldwide web, at no extra cost.

Initially it looked like a win-win, and the indication was that Jagannathan and Gupta were on the same page.

The two had worked together at Business Standard and at a review meeting in April, the former is reported to have said that he would make way for the Forbes India team to run the show after a few months.

Network 18 sources say initially Gupta & Co were not seen as a “hindrance” to the integration, although at least two of the four were allegedly told in their “exit” meetings with HR that they were seen as such and that they would be “redundant” in the converged newsroom.

Since a couple of crores could not have been the problem for either Network 18 or RIL, the key problem area could perhaps have been “mindset”.

The orbits of the two organisations—and their means, methods, motives and motivations—are signficantly different.

Like its US parent, Forbes India occupies the leisurely and rarefied world of a fortnightly. Stories are deeply, immersively researched. Stories are slow-cooked from a week up to a month or more, before being written and re-written and re-re-written by editors.

On the other hand, First Post is all speed and on-the-spur. Provocation is its middle name. And, despite coming from a massive group backed by a giant business house, much of its output is cheaply spun and rehashed by arm-chair pundits with an “angle” and “attitude”.

More importantly, the political impulses of the two organisations were diametrically different.

Although Forbes prides itself as the “capitalist tool” in America, Forbes India had a slight liberal streak. First Post, on the other hand, like Network 18 founder Raghav Bahl, unabashedly tilts to the right. (Bahl recently said in the presence of Narendra Modi that India’s predominant political impulse was “right”.)

In the end, a low-cost solution seems to have been found to a potentially head-on editorial—and ideological—collision between the online and offline organisations, but at what cost?

Regardless of what prompted the exits, will Forbes, which licensed its title to Bahl’s Network 18 for six years, be told why the top four names on the masthead will be suddenly missing from the next issue?

Will its readers be told?

***

At the end of the day, though, the issue is one of signals.

By securing the exit of senior editors in this fashion, by showing how dispensable even an Editor is, the signal has gone down the line, to fall in line. Or else.

And by making ESOPs such an elastic matter, other ESOP holders in different companies of Network 18 have been sent the signal that they too can take nothing for granted.

But…

# What signal does the viewer receive at 9 am every week day, when Udayan Mukherjee and Mitali Mukherjee start grandly quizzing TCS, Infosys or Wipro managers on ESOPs?

# What signal do editors across the country receive when the Press Council, Editors’ Guild and other bodies remain silent when media corporations treat employees and their lives with such abandon?

# What signal do media houses send of their concern for a free, fair and responsible press if HR staff behave in an irresponsible manner and attack professional, independent minded journalists?

# What signal does a global brand like Forbes, or other foreign media houses, receive of the seriousness of their Indian partners to play by the book and observe the rules?

# And finally what signal does Mukesh Ambani’s RIL, which is now in the media in a big way, send of the seriousness of corporates to preserve the core values of the media?

Also read: What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

12 gems from a response to a TOI legal notice

24 May 2013

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There’s something decidedly execrable when a media company thinks it is well within its rights to use its might to silence another media company or media professional with a fire-and-brimstone legal threat.

Even more so, when a 175-year-old media giant like The Times of India group picks on a 22-year-old girl.

In April, lawyers representing Times Publishing House, a Times subsidiary, tried to scare Aparajita Lath (in picture), a student of the national institute of juridical sciences (NUJS), with civil and criminal action for writing a 669-word blog post in February 2013 capturing the Times group’s long-drawn trademark tussle with the Financial Times of London.

The Times lawyers probably expected a cowering apology.

What they got instead was a rocket from Shamnad Basheer, the founder of SpicyIP.com and a chaired professor of IP law at the NUJS, who also recommended an IQ test for the Times lawyer.

Usually, lawyers go all weak in the knees when taken on by a Goliath. But Basheer’s 5-page response to the Times‘ 7-page notice “most unapologetically” speaks truth to power with candour. It’s an object lesson to media companies which try to silence critics, and an even bigger lesson to law firms.

Here are 12 standout sentences from Basheer’s response:

1) “We strongly object to the vile language and the highly aggressive tone used in the notice. We can respond in kind, but we choose to be a bit more civil with you.”

2) “You choose to issue this highly malevolent letter, hoping to intimidate us into a meek apology. Unfortunately, while the meek may inherit the earth, they are bound to be shown no favour by corporate powerhouses such as your client.”

3) “So, let’s cut to the chase and explore your alleged grievances articulated rather flatulently in over seven pages of a highly intemperate legal notice.

4) “We could send you stacks of material originating from your client that cause the same [shock] effect on us, particularly the numerous page 3 images that continue to assault us on an almost daily basis.

5) “As any law student in a decent law school will inform you, in order to constitute the legal wrong of defamation, you need to prove that the statements made by us necessarily lowered the reputation of your client in the eyes of a “reasonable” public.

6) “We assumed that as a qualified lawyer, you are well aware of the distinction between an opinion and a fact…. If the law has changed in this regard, please to intimate us, so that we may notify our readers of this sea change, which has gone unnoticed, without so much as a whisper.

7) “… we are prepared to issue a clarification. However, we will do so only upon your sending us a more polite letter seeking this clarification. ‘Please” and “thank you” are words that have unfortunately become relics in this fast pace world of ours, and even more so with fast paced lawyers such as yourselves.

8) “We fail to understand how any reasonable reader would have arrived at such a fanciful conclusion. And those that do are in dire need of a serious IQ check. We believe there are several robust online tests floating around these days, should you wish to take one of them.

9) “Apparently you’ve not sent Mint a legal notice as yet. We can only guess that you’re averse to picking people your own size…. We’re guessing that you’ve shied away from sending a legal notice to Harish Salve, widely acknowledged as a leading legal luminary and heavyweight [quoted in the Mint article and the blogger's story].

10)  “We are particularly amused at your allegation that a 22-year-old law student caused “irreparable injury” and “loss of reputation” to a powerful media house by highlighting a highly technical trademark dispute of public importance and reflecting on the protracted nature of the litigation. Continue to amuse us, and we may begin to reciprocate.

11) “It is surprising how you’ve twisted simple sentences . We belong to the land of yoga, no doubt, but this is simply too much of a stretch. Clearly, neither your client nor Financial Times Limited are ‘hapless’ when both have been spending crores of rupees in fighting this protracted legal battle for more than 20-odd years!

12) “If you continue with this character assassination and threaten us any further, we will be constrained to initiate legal proceedings against you. This will needlessly fill the coffer of two sets of lawyers but perhaps that’s what you really want. In the sincere hope that your client is smarter than you, we remain, most unapologetically yours.”

For the record, advocate Ashish Verma signed the Times legal notice for the Delhi-based K. Datta & Associates.

Also for the record, a similar notice was served on Paranjoy Guha Thakurta for writing the Mint article, although Mint, which is owned by Hindustan Times, has been spared the agony.

Photograph: courtesy Spicy IP

Also readThrice-bitten, will FT find real love again?

Financial Times takes on The Times of India

Now The Times of India takes on Financial Times

***

The Hindu threatens to sue The Indian Express

Bloomberg threatens to sue CNBC-TV18

Shekhar Gupta threatens to sue Vinod Mehta, et al

Editors’ Guild backs Times Now in libel case

***

External reading: Was Times right to take on blogger?

ET Now anchor to wed ex-cricketer’s son

22 April 2013

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From the gossip columns of Pune Mirror, glad tidings on former CNBC TV18 and current ET Now anchor, Ayesha Faridi:

“Marriage bells are ringing for Dilip and Manali Vengsarkar’s son Nakul. Your diarist has learnt that the 31-year-old architect and interior designer will be tying the knot with TV anchor Ayesha Faridi on April 27.

“The cricket legend’s only son had earlier been engaged to marry Swapnali, daughter of real estate baron Avinash Bhosle, but the alliance was called off in circumstances that remain shrouded in mystery to this day….

“However, we gather that Nakul secretly started dating Ayesha around two years ago when she was working in Mumbai and the relationship went from strength to strength even after she relocated to Delhi to take up a fresh assignment.

“The engagement, which took place some months ago with the blessings of their families, was a low key affair. Though the marriage will be solemnised in Delhi, the Vengsarkars are gearing up to host a grand reception in Mumbai.”

Also read: When a politician weds a journo, it’s news

When a filmstar weds a journalist, it’s news

Another (woman) journalist bites stardust

When a magazine editor marries a starlet, it’s news

Lots of people watch Lok Sabha TV. Surprised?

24 March 2012

It doesn’t look pretty when a free-to-air public service broadcaster gets into the TRP race.

Lok Sabha TV, the channel of the lower house of Parliament, has issued newspaper advertisements through the audio-visual publicity department (DAVP) of the government, of the viewership commanded by it in Delhi during the first week of March—when the results for the assembly elections to five States came out—and except for Times Now*, the news isn’t too good for the rest.

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Every channel is a winner in great poll race

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

9 January 2012

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and KEERTHI PRATIPATI in Hyderabad write: Media criticism in India, especially in the so-called mainstream media, has never been much to write home about.

Operating on the principle that writing on another media house or media professional means exposing yourself to the same danger in the future, proprietors, promoters and editors—most of whom have plenty to hide—are wary of taking on their colleagues, competitors and compatriots.

That risk-averse attitude amounting to a mutually agreed ceasefire pretty much explains why the biggest media deal of the decade—Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) funding Network 18/ TV 18 group to pick up ETV—has been reported with about as much excitement as a weather report.

That the newspaper which issues P. Sainath‘s monthly cheque, The Hindu, declined to publish media critic Sevanti Ninan‘s fortnightly column on market rumours about the impending deal (without telling readers why) provides a chilling preview of what lies in store as the shadow of corporates lengthens over the media.

In 2008, New York Times‘ columnist Anand Giridharadas wrote of why the Indian media does not take on the Ambanis of Reliance Industries in an article titled “Indian to the core, and an oligarch“.

“A prominent Indian editor, formerly of The Times of India, who requested anonymity because of concerns about upsetting Mr Ambani, says Reliance maintains good relationships with newspaper owners; editors, in turn, fear investigating it too closely.

“I don’t think anyone else comes close to it,” the editor said of Reliance’s sway. “I don’t think anyone is able to work the system as they can.”

***

First things first, the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV wedding is an unlikely menage-a-trois.

Reliance Industries Limited is a behemoth built by Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani using a maze of companies and subsidiaries built on a heady cocktail of mergers and demergers, using shares, debentures, bonuses and other tricks in the accounting book—and many beyond it.

The only known interest of the Ambanis in the media before this deal was when they bought a Bombay business weekly called Commerce and turned into the daily Business & Political Observer (BPO) to match the weekly offering, The Sunday Observer, which they had acquired from Jaico Publishing.

(Top business commentators like John Elliott and Sucheta Dalal have alluded to a blog item to convey that Mukesh Ambani’s media interest goes beyond the recent announcement.)

Anyway, BPO, launched under the editorship of Prem Shankar Jha, was long in coming unlike typical Reliance projects. Suffice it to say that in 1991, when India was at the cusp of pathbreaking reforms, some of India’s biggest names in business journalism were producing dummy editions of BPO.

The Ambani publications were under the gaze of the more media-savvy younger brother, Anil Ambani, who operated with R.K. Mishra, the late editor of The Patriot, as chairman of the editorial board. The Observer group shuttered before the beginning of the new millennium.

As Mani Ratnam‘s film Guru based on Sydney Morning Herald foreign editor Hamish McDonald‘s book The Polyester Prince makes clear, the Ambanis have always cultivated friends across the political divide, but they have been identified with the Congress more than the BJP.

Raghav Bahl‘s Network18/TV18 is in some senses an ideal fit for RIL.

Till its latest cleanup came about a year and a half ago, it was difficult to understand which of its myriad companies and subsidiaries came under which arm. It too has friends on either side, but suffice it to say, CNN-IBN‘s decision not to run the cash-for-votes sting operation in July 2008 revealed where its political predilections lay.

Eenadu and ETV, on the other hand, is a long, different story.

***

The ETV network of channels was launched by Ramoji Rao, the founder of the Telugu daily Eenadu. Rao has many claims to fame (including launching Priya pickles), but he is chiefly known as the media baron behind the transformation of the Telugu film star N.T. Rama Rao into a weighty non-Congress politician.

Rao and his men are known to have crafted speeches that tapped into dormant Telugu pride for the politically naive NTR. The massive media buildup in Eenadu—Ramoji Rao pioneered multi-edition newspapers with localised supplements—saw NTR become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh just nine months after launching the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982.

Two years later, when NTR was removed from office by a pliant governor (Ram Lal) working at the behest of Indira Gandhi‘s rampaging government, Ramoji Rao played a key role in protecting the numbers of TDP MLAs by having them packed off to Bangalore and Mysore, and building public opinion through his newspapers.

When NTR’s son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu walked out of TDP to “save” TDP, Ramoji Rao backed Naidu and played a hand in his ascension as CM. Thus, Ramoji Rao galvanised non-Congress forces in the South leading to the creation of the National Front, which installed V.P. Singh as PM in 1989 after the Bofors scandal claimed Rajiv Gandhi.

In 2006, Ramoji Rao placed his political leaning on record:

“I submit that until 1983 the Congress was running the State in an unchallenged and unilateral manner for the past 30 years. The Congress party became a threat to democracy and in view of the single party and individual rule by Indira Congress, the opposition in the state was in emaciated condition. It has been reduced to the status of a nominal entity. The dictatorial rule of the Congress proceeding without any hindrance. I submit that as the opposition parties were weak and were in helpless situation where they were unable to do any thing in spite of the misrule by the ruling party, Eenadu played the role of opposition. I submit that in the elections of the State Assembly held in 1983, the Congress for the first time did not secure a majority in the elections and lost the power to the newly formed Telugu Desam Party. I submit that on the day of poling i.e. January 5, 1983, I issued a signed editorial on the front page of Eenadu supporting the manifesto of Telugu Desam Party and calling on the electorate to vote for Telugu Desam Party giving cogent reasons for the stance taken by me.”

In short, the marriage between RIL-Network18/TV18 and Ramoji Rao is one between a largely pro-Congress duo and a distinctly non-Congress one.

***

Indeed, Ramoji Rao’s troubles that has resulted in substantial sections of his ETV network getting out of his grasp and into RIL’s, are largely because of his consistently anti-Congress stance, which gained an added edge in 2005 when the Congress under Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR) trumped the TDP under Chandrababu Naidu in the assembly elections.

Reported The Telegraph:

A slew of news reports in Eenadu and programmes on ETV since 2005 have accused Congress ministers, politicians and senior government officials of corruption and hanky panky. One report, for instance, debunked the official claim that the number of suicides by farmers had dropped. Another attacked construction by Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, the chief minister’s brother, on disputed land. A third said that Eenadu had discovered, based on a survey, that voter lists for elections for local bodies had omitted the names of opposition party sympathisers.

It didn’t take long for YSR to hit back.

It was a two-pronged attack: his son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy launched a project to own launch his own newspaper and newschannel house to take on the might of Eenadu and ETV. Simultaneously, a Congress MP from Rajahmundry attacked Ramoji Rao where it hurt most: his finances.

Arun Kumar Vundavalli, the MP, revealed that Rao’s Margadarsi Financiers had started dilly-dallying about repaying depositors, even after their deposit period had expired. Kumar showed that Margadarsi Financiers—a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) company, of which the karta was Ramoji Rao—had collected deposits from the public, although a 1997 RBI law forbade HUFs from doing so.

Margadarsi Financiers owned a 95% stake in Ushodaya Enterprises, Ramoji Rao’s company which owned Eenadu and ETV.

A one-man committee of enquiry constituted by the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy government revealed that Rs 2,600 crore of money was collected from the public in violation of RBI norms. Although his companies were not in great shape, Ramoji Rao assured the Andhra Pradesh high court that he would repay the full amount of Rs 2,600 crore due to the depositors.

Enter Blackstone.

In January 2007, the world’s largest private equity player indicated that it wanted to pick up 26% in Ushodaya Enterprises group for Rs 1,217 crore. At the time, it was reported to be India’s single largest foreign direct investment (FDI) in the print media.

The Blackstone offer placed the value of Ramoji Rao’s company at Rs 4,470 crore.

But the FDI proposal got stuck in the I&B ministry for months, allegedly at the behest of Vundavalli, who raised a variety of concerns over the Blackstone-Eenadu deal. In January 2008, when the clearance for the Blackstone investment was still not coming, Mint asked:

“Does the promoter of an Indian company, who is selling a stake in his family’s media firm to a foreign investor, have the right to do what he wants with that money, in this particular case, pay off liabilities of another company that his family separately also owns?….”

“FIPB records then show that the finance ministry, specifically citing Vundavalli’s claims, ‘has observed that prima facie, it appears that the purpose of securing funds from M/s Blackstone is not for advancing the business of Ushodaya Enterprises Ltd, but for repaying the deposits taken by M/s Margadarsi Financiers.”

When the Blackstone deal did not materialise, Nimesh Kampani of JM Financial stepped in as Ramoji Rao’s white knight although, as Sucheta Dalal writes, Kampani was never known to have any interest in the media except in deal-making.

According to VC Circle, Kampani picked up 21% of Ushodaya Enterprises for Rs 1,424 crore, which valued the company at Rs 6,780 crore, or over 50 per cent more than what Blackstone was willing to accept.

“The first public report of Kampani’s investment came in early February 2008, or around 10 days after stock markets crashed globally.”

Now, YSR got after Kampani.

Andhra Pradesh police issued a “look-out” notice for Kampani. Nagarjuna Finance, of which Kampani had been director, had allegedly defrauded depositors. Although Kampani had resigned from the independent directorship of the company nine years earlier, it was a sufficient handle to beat him with.

For months, Kampani had to stay out of India, fearing arrest. It was only after his bete noire YSR met with a bloody death in a helicopter crash in September 2009 that Kampani could return home.(YSR’s death in the aircrash was itself not without controversy involving the Ambanis.)

In May 2010, rumours surfaced of Mukesh Ambani buying up JM Financial but they soon fizzled out.

Shortly before buying into ETV, Kampani had recently sold his stake in a joint venture with Morgan Stanley to his foreign partner for $440 million and had the cash. The Margadarsi bailout, it was assumed, was in his personal capacity. It took a petition in 2011 filed by YSR’s widow seeking an inquiry into Chandrababu Naidu’s assets assets for the penny to drop.

Enter RIL.

YSR’s widow, Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, an MLA, alleged that when gas reserves were found in the Krishna Godavari basin in Andhra Pradesh in 2002, the Chandrababu Naidu government wilfully surrendered its right over the discovery in favour of Reliance, “while allowing Naidu’s close associate Ramoji Rao to be the vehicle of the quid pro quo.” (page 32)

“In consideration for the favour done by the Respondent No. 8 (Chandrababu Naidu) in allowing the State’s KG basin claim to be brushed under the carpet, the Reliance group facilitated the payout of Ramoji Rao’s debts to his depositors. This was carried out through known associates and friends of Mukesh Ambani.

“Two of these known associates of Ambani and the Reliance Group are Nimesh Kampani (of JM Financial) and Vinay Chajlani (of Nai Duniya).

“Kampani extended himself in ensuring that Ramoji Rao would be bailed out. Within a short span of 37 days between December 2007 and January 2008, six “shell companies” were floated on three addresses, which are shown as Sriram Mills Compound, Worli, which is the official address of Reliance Industries Limited. Reliance diverted Rs 2,604 crores of its shareholders money through the shell companies to M/s Kampani’s Equator Trading India Limited and Chajlani’s Anu Trading.”

In other words, RIL’s involvement in Eenadu through Kampani became known only recently in response to Vijayalakshmi’s petition, but it was market gossip for quite a while.

T.N. Ninan, the chairman of Business Standard and the president of the editors’ guild of India, wrote in a column in January 2011:

“If reports in Jagan Reddy’s Saakshi newspaper are to be believed, Mukesh Ambani is a behind-the-scenes investor in Eenadu, the leading Telugu daily.”

Vijayalakshmi’s 2011 petition makes several serious allegations.

That Ramoji Rao entered into the deal with Kampani’s Equator just 23 days after it was registered although it had no known expertise or business; that Ushodaya sold Rs 100 shares to Equator at a premium of Rs 5,28,630 per share; and that Ushodaya’s valuation had been pumped up by Rs 1,200 crore by its claims over a movie library.

Vijayalakshmi’s petition concluded:

“The interest shown by Reliance group in coming to the rescue of Ushodaya Enterprises headed by Ramoji Rao is clearly in defiance of any prudent profit-based corporate entity (since) Reliance does not gain any returns by virtue of that investment.”

***

It is this RIL baby that is now in Network18/TV18’s lap.

The timing of the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal also hides a small story.

It comes when the probe into the assets of Naidu and his associates (including Ramoji Rao) has moved from the High Court to the Supreme Court. It comes when a parallel probe into Vijayalakshmi’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy’s assets has entered a new and critical phase. It comes when the KG basin gas controversy is heating up. And, above all, it comes when 2014 is looming into the calendar.

Several questions emerge from this deal which has politics, business and media in varying measures:

1) What does it mean for Indian democracy when India’s richest businessman becomes India’s biggest media baron with control over at least two dozen English and regional news and business channels?

2) What kind of control will Mukesh Ambani have over Raghav Bahl’s Network18/TV18 when and if RIL’s optionally convertible debentures (OCDs) are turned into equity?

3) What kind of due diligence did the financially troubled Network18/TV18 do on the Kampani-Ambani investment in ETV before agreeing to pick up RIL’s stake for Rs 2,100 crore?

4) How will CNBC-TV18, which incidentally broke the news of the split among the Ambani brothers in 2005, report news of India’s biggest company (or its political and other benefactors) now that it is indirectly going to be owned by it?

5) Is there a case for alarm when one man has a direct and indirect stamp over three of the five major English news channels (CNN-IBN, NewsX and NDTV 24×7), three business channels (CNBC-TV18, IBN Awaaz, NDTV Profit), and at least five Hindi news channels?

6) Do Raghav Bahl and team who ran a handful of channels heavily into debt, have the expertise to run two dozen or more channels, especially in the language space where there are bigger players like Star and Zee?

7) Is the ETV network really worth so much, especially when Ushodaya’s most profitable parts, Eenadu and Priya Foods, are out of it? Or is RIL using Network18/TV18’s plight to turn a bad asset into a good one?

8) Is RIL really tying with Network18/TV18 with 4G in mind, or is this just spin to push an audacious deal past market regulators such as SEBI and the Competition Commission of India (CCI)?

9) How immune are Mukesh Ambani and Raghav Bahl from political forces hoping to use the combined clout of RIL-Network18/TV18 to blunt negative coverage ahead of the 2014 general elections?

10) And have Network18/TV18 investors got a fair deal?

***

Infographic: courtesy Outlook

Also read: The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

An intimation of mortality from Raghav Bahl

28 February 2011

CNBC-TV18 bossman Raghav Bahl managed to secure the “first interview” with Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee after he presented his budget on Monday, although Mukherjee had appeared before Financial Express managing editor M.K. Venu for Lok Sabha TV hours earlier.

At the end of the 30-minute pow-wow, Bahl dragged in his hobby-horse, China, and quoted from a recent Citi report that by 2050, India would be the world’s biggest economy.

The minister happily answered the query with a smile.

“On that optimistic note, let us….” said Bahl.

At that juncture, Mukherjee, 77, intervened and added helpfully that he would not be around then.

Non-plussed, Bahl continued: ‘On that optimistic note, thank you very much….”

(Update: sans serif is happy to acknowledge readers who say Raghav Bahl went on to complete the sentence.)

Also read: What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

‘If we don’t get it first, why should we want it?’

‘If we don’t get it first, why should we want it?’

11 October 2010

Network 18 bossman, Raghav Bahl, receives some loaded questions from Sunil Jain of the Financial Express, in an interaction with journalists of the The Indian Express group:

Sunil Jain: The SEBI chief [M. Damodaran] once spoke of  “anchor-investors”. Also, how do you justify your getting into private treaties?

Raghav Bahl: On “anchor-investors”, I never quite understood what Damodaran was saying. It is easy to accuse. I went to the SEBI chairman and said, “If there an iota of evidence, please give it to me in confidence. I assure you action will be taken.” But there was nothing. No evidence.

On paid news, a business journalist is under suspicion ab initio. This is what I have learnt in 20 years. Because when you say something is good, the first inference is that this guy is on the take. It is a cross that a business journalist carries. But I don’t think that is true.

At the end of the day, in my experience of 20 years, I don’t think anybody has ever produced anything tangible against any of our journalists. Errors, yes, they certainly happen. Do you get setup by somebody? Yes, you do. You can make a mistake but you correct it quickly.

Coming to private treaties, we did treaties of the value of Rs 30 to 40 crore. That’s all we did. We believe commercially, it is a loss-making model. Because 45 per cent of your non-cash revenues are out of your pocket on Day 1–in service tax and income tax. So we believe it is a loss-making model. We stopped it.

Sunil Jain: What about the ethics of it?

Raghav Bahl: Ethics can be compromised even without a treaties deal. Why will you do a treaty to compromise ethics? If you need to compromise ethics, why will you take your money in cheque, backed by 10 pages of an agreement? So I do not buy the ethics point at all. It’s a revenue earning mechanism, but is an extremely inefficient mechanism. I think it is a legitimate use of your editorial position.

Sunil Jain: How do you justify CNBC walking out of interviews if another channel gets them first?

Raghav Bahl: I think it’s a legitimate use of your editorial position. Don’t you do it? If the prime minister is giving you an appointment, won’t you want it first? It is a legitimate effort by a journalist to get it first.

Also read: What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

Business journalism or business of journalism?

Is ethical journalism is a bad word at CNBC-TV18?

MTV isn’t the only channel making a bakra out of you

The media and the stock market collapse

Is it all over for DNA in the battle for Bombay?

26 September 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The October 8 issue of Forbes magazine, from the CNBC-TV18 group, carries a four-page story that reads more like an advance obituary for DNA, the English broadsheet daily newspaper that was launched by the Dainik Bhaskar and Zee television groups to humble The Times of  India in urbs prima in Indus.

Five years and Rs 1,100 crore later, writes Rohin Dharmakumar evocatively citing the 1961 film Guns of Navarone, DNA’s original ambition lies in tatters, although the “theory” was perfectly feasible.

# DNA’s Bombay readership is down 15% from its 2009 peak, while The Times of India’s is 2.5 larger.

# DNA’s ad rates are one-third ToI’s on paper, but closer to one-seventh due to discounting.

# DNA’s revenue was Rs 148 crore last year, up 22% over the year before, but still Rs 70 crore short of covering its operating costs.

# DNA is now a distant No.3 in Bombay and Bangalore to Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle, respectively, and both are reportedly close to dislodging it from that position.

# Only current executive editor R. Jagannathan remains from DNA’s original star cast, many of whom were lured from The Times of India and hired at high salaries.

In hindsight, DNA’s faulty subscription drive, the launch and free distribution of Mumbai Mirror with ToI and the increase of ToI’s cover price to suck the newspaper budget of households so that a second newspaper cannot be bought, are seen to have been the key drivers in ToI fighting off the challenge.

Rahul Kansal, the chief marketing officer of ToI, is quoted as saying:

DNA came in with a lot of overconfidence. Heady with their launches in Gujarat and Rajasthan, they thought The Times of India would be a sitting duck. They started their outdoor campaign four months in advance, giving us adequate time to launch a new paper. I think they displayed their hand way too early, so by the time they launched, we had already soaked up a lot of the reading appetite.”

The southward turn in DNA’s fortunes is reflected in Subhash Chandra of Zee edging out partner Sudhir Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar for a more hands-on role. Cost-cutting is the mantra of DNA’s CEO K.U. Rao, a former Shell executive in his first media stint.

“Probably the most stark sign of DNA’s transformation comes from Bangalore, where just over a year after it spent Rs 100 crore to put up a state-of-the-art press, it is now using it to print over 200,000 copies of Bangalore Mirror for The Times of India,” writes Rohin Dharmakumar.

The Forbes piece will be available online after October 7.

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