Posts Tagged ‘Indu Jain’

Why Shobhana Bhartia was late for PM’s breakfast

12 April 2014

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As is only to be expected, a number of journalists figure in former Economic Times, Times of India and Financial Express journalist Sanjaya Baru‘s book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister‘ (Penguin), on his days as the PM’s media advisor.

But a few publishers and head honchos do too, including Prannoy Roy of NDTV, Samir Jain of The Times of India and his mother Indu Jain, and Shobhana Bhartia of Hindustan Times.

***

In May 2005, as the UPA approached its first anniversary, reports began to appear that the PM was reviewing the performance of his ministers.

On 9 May, when he was in Moscow, NDTV ran a story that external affairs minister Natwar Singh had secured a ‘low’ score on the PM’s ‘report card’ and was likely to be dropped from the Cabinet.

Natwar was most unhappy and took the day off on ‘health grounds’.

This news reached the PM in Moscow when he was in the midst of a briefing at his hotel. He asked me to find out what exactly NDTV had reported.

When I brief him he burst out angrily, ‘Tell Prannoy to stop reporting these lies.’

I called Prannoy Roy and had just begun speaking to him when the PM asked for my mobile phone and spoke to Prannoy himself, scolding him like he was chiding a student who had erred, saying, ‘This is not correct. You cannot report like this.’

Indeed, the relationship between him and Pranny was not that of a PM and senior media editor but more like that of a former boss and a one-time junior,. This was because Prannoy had worked as an economic adviser in the miistry of finance under Dr Singh.

After a few minutes, Prannoy called me back.

‘Are you still with him?’ he asked

I stepped out of the room and told him that I was now alone.

‘Boy, I have not been scolded like that since school! He sounded like a headmaster, not a prime minister,’ complained Prannoy.

***

Rupert Muroch (of Star TV and News Corp) tried a trick to secure an appointment (with the PM).

Having failed on one occasion to meet Dr Singh, he made a second attempt by letting it be known that he was not interested in talking about his media business. Rather, he wanted to talk about China.

The PM was amused and granted him an appointment. Murdoch did duscuss China and explained where he saw China going. But, as he got up to leave, he expressed the hope that the Indian government would be more receptive to his media plan than China had been.

***

Within the PMO, (former national security advisor) Mani Dixit’s imperious style inevitably came into conflict with my own more freewheeling and irreverent style of functioning.

Our first disagreement was on who could travel with the PM on his official plane.

Seeing the name of Times of India journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, who later served as editor of The Hindu, on the media list, Mani sent me a note informing me that Siddharth was not an Indian national but an American citizen and, as a foreign national, was not entitled to travel on the PM’s plane.

I was aware of Siddharth’s citizenship, since this matter had come up when I had hired him as an assistant editor of the Times of India.

I chose not to make an issue of it then and Samir Jain, vice chairman of Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, the publishers of The Times of India, who took particular interest in the hiring of editorial writers, did not object either. Now the matter had surfaced again.

***

I arranged a series of breakfast meetings with important editors, publishers and TV anchors. As an early riser Dr Singh would schedule his breakfast meetings for half past eight being late to bed and late to rise, editors and TV anchors would protest but turn up on time.

When I invited a group of publishers, the only ones to arrive late were Shobhana Bhartia of Hindustan Times because, as she tole me, she took a long time to dry her hair and Indu Jain, chairperson of the Times of India, because she had to finish her morning puja.

Also read: Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

B.G. Verghese: a deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar, et al

Jug Suraiya on MJ, SJ, Giri, Monu and Mama T

When Samir Jain served a thali, Vineet served a scoop

Quick, what does shloka 17/15 of the Gita say?

10 June 2010

The Times of India‘s weekend supplement on contemporary and new-age spirituality, The Speaking Tree, a pet-project of bosswoman Indu Jain, is inviting applications for the post of assistant editor.

Qualifications: MA or PhD in comparative religion or theology.

Also read: You’ve read the column, now read the paper

When a newspaper recites Bhagwad Gita to a godman

‘The name is Gajwani. Satyan Suresh Gajwani.’

6 August 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Although they run India’s largest home-grown media empire, the seamer side of which unabashedly peeks into the lives of people, the Jains of The Times of India group treasure their privacy like they do, well, their marketshare.

(Almost.)

Elder son Samir Jain, 55, rarely makes public appearances of the sort younger brother Vineet Jain, 43, does. When Forbes magazine named mother Indu Jain as India’s second richest woman, Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL) went to court citing an invasion of her privacy. And so on.

But is a small but significant shift on?

Twice in the last three days, the media website content sutra has referred to the man said to be the fiancè of Samir Jain’s daughter Trishla Jain, the heir apparent whose reluctance to return to India after her graduation from Stanford was listed by India Today magazine as his “biggest disappointment“.

Trishla has thankfully returned, and, it seems, with her husband-to-be.

India Today reported in March this year that the soon-to-be husband was already ensconced on the fourth floor of Times House, which houses the Times of India‘s headquarters on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in Delhi.

Now, content sutra reporter Sruthijith K.K. outs him in a manner of speaking.

Samir Jain’s son-in-law-to-be is: a) a Stanford grad Satyan Gajwani, b) taking active interest in the affairs of the company’s web portal Indiatimes, and c) is currently serving as executive assistant to group CEO Ravi Dhariwal.

A bit of googling reveals:

# That Satyan Gajwani is actually Satyan Suresh Gajwani.

# That he is the son of Suresh and Nilam Gajwani of Miami, Florida.

# Suresh Gajwani is president of Amtel Security Systems, whose home was affected by Cyclone Irene in 1999. (Water entered the Gajwanis’ home through the window and sliding glass door openings and they sued the insurance company when their claims were denied.)

# Suresh and Nilam Gajwani are listed as dharam sevaks who contributed between $10,000 and $25,000 at the South Florida Hindu temple.

# That as a student of the Miami Palmetto High School, Satyan Gajwani won the 2003 Lincoln-Douglas debate.  That there was a minor row about his win.

# That, at Stanford, he earned a minor in economics, major in mathematical and computational science, and a masters in management science and engineering in 2007.

# That he lists Vineet Jain among the four people he follows on the New York Times‘ social network, Times People.

Intrusion of privacy?

That should teach the young man at Times Internet Limited something about the digital trail!

Screenshot: courtesy content sutra

Also read: 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros

26% of India’s most powerful are media barons

6 March 2009

The latest issue of India Today magazine carries the annual ranking of the 50 most powerful people in the country, and 13 media worthies find a mention.

All but two of them have shown an improvement over last year’s ranking. Remarkably, only one major English newspaper group is on the list.

The brothers Samir and Vineet Jain who run The Times of India group, come in at No.8 (up one place from No. 9 last year); Raghav Bahl of Network 18 is at 15 (up from No.18); Ronnie Screwvala of UTV is at No. 20 (up from No. 24); Subhash Chandra of Zee Network is at No. 22 (up from No. 20); Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi Maran of Sun Networkare at No. 24 (up from No. 31); Ramesh and Sudhir Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar are at No. 35 (up from No. 37);  uncle and nephew Mahendra Mohan and Sanjay Gupta are at No. 39 (up from No. 45); Rajeev Chandrashekhar of Asianet and Suvarna is at No 46 (up from No. 50).

The only media barons whose stock has gone down are Prannoy and Radhika Roy of NDTV who are at No. 42, down 20 places from No. 22 last year.

Missing from last year’s list is T. Venkattram Reddy of Deccan Chronicle and Asian Age.

As always, though, the masala is in the fineprint.

Indu Jain, we are told, no longer visits office. Samir’s daughter Trishala‘s soon-to-be-husband is already ensconced on the fourth floor of Times House in Delhi. Raghav Bahl watches Balika Vadhu. Screwvala has moved into a home in Breach Candy in Bombay that he and his wife Zarina Khote worked on for five years. Subhash Chandra practises Vipassana for 45 minutes every day. Kalanidhi’s “centre of gravity” is his daughter Kaviya. Rajeev Chandrasekhar has Ferraris, BMWs and India’s largest collection of Land Rovers in his fleet, although his favourite is a red Lamborghini.

Also read: The 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros

Forbes can name India’s second richest woman

Is this man the next media mogul of India?

Why JoJo might want to leave The Times of India

19 April 2008

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Well-placed sources in command central of The Times of India group confirm that the paper’s executive editor, Jaideep Bose aka JoJo, has indeed put in his papers as has been rumoured for the last couple of days, but not even editors who have his ear are in a position to say if this means the end of his long association with the Old Lady of Bori Bunder.

The buzz over JoJo’s exit turned into a blaze this morning when Mint, the business daily owned by Hindustan Times, put out a story that he was on his way out, possibly to head the Indian edition of Financial Times that is slated to come out of the stable of Network 18, which owns CNBC-TV18 and has major plans in the print space including a Hindi business daily and a slew of magazines starting with Forbes.

For the record, Bose delivered a “no-comment” to Mint:

“I have just come back from Chennai after successfully launching the paper (The Times of India). I am very much with the Times. I have no comments (on the buzz on my departure)”.

To give the JoJo-is-not-leaving version its due, there has been no outward sign of his wanting to quit The Times group, where he served as editor of The Economic Times before being summoned by Samir Jain nearly four years years ago to take over as executive editor of The Times of India.

JoJo was present at the inauguration of the Times School of Journalism on April 7 where he said “We are all set to launch four new editions in the coming months and our appetite for journalists is insatiable”. He was there at the launch of the Madras edition on April 14 and stationed himself there all through the launch week. And he has disregarded a small mountain of resignation letters that had accumulated on his table when he returned to Bombay on April 18.

“If he wanted to leave, he would have let his trusted aides go, too, to flex his editorial muscle in a manner of speaking,” says one Times editor.

However, PR companies have been circulating a long list of Times staffers who are leaving for various editorially greener pastures (including Charles Assisi national business editor who is leaving to join Forbes). National features editor Manu Joseph, too, is watching the exit sign over the newsroom floor afer putting in his papers, possibly to join a new magazine coming out of the RPG group.

One blogger, who recently called JoJo the best editor of his generation, is emphatic that Samir Jain is in no danger of losing his top editorial staff since there is some “unfinished business” at The Times.

However, to give the JoJo-is-leaving version its due, there are many in The Times who say that JoJo, who is seen to have earned the trust of Samir Jain with his low profile and strong work ethic, would not have let word about his possible exit to leak out, if there was no truth to it or if he didn’t want to send some signals. In other words, there is a spark behind the smoke.

So if it is not posturing, what could be the reasons for JoJo to leave?

1) More money: The word in the Times‘ building is that Network 18 has offered him a Rs 3 crore per annum package, with generous stock options, which could add another Rs 25-30 crore to his bank balance over five years.

2) More control: Times insiders say JoJo has been angling for greater editorial control over group’s publications and products, including Economic Times and the Times Now channel, but there has been some resistance within the group, especially from the marketing men who run the paper, who believe journalists shouldn’t get too big for their boots.

3) General fatigue: JoJo has been there, done that, and bought the lousy tee-shirt too many times. Having helped take The Times of India national, there might not be too much fun in cracking the egg again and again for him. In other words, it’s time to do something new, even if it is small, over which he can claim proprietorship.

4) Content is king: Regardless of Times‘ perceived editorial successes, the marketing men walk away with all the glory. For instance, despite JoJo’s presence, brand director Rahul Kansal did all the talking on the Madras edition. So the desire “to do something on my own” “where the editor is respected” could be a motivating factor.

However, there could be two other small but key reasons for word leaking out that JoJo is on his way out.

The first might be to tell the Jains that he cannot be taken for granted. When Hindustan Times and DNA were being launched in Bombay three years ago, The Times‘ marketing mavens gave sufficient legroom for editorial under JoJo to retain domination of the Times‘ place of birth. It was seen by many to have made The Times a much, improved paper that no longer thought its readers to be frivolous fools.

But with the threat posed by HT petering out and with DNA settling down comfortably enough not to rattle the motherhen, there is a feeling among the Times‘ journalists that the marketing men are running haywire once again, leaving editorial credibility in tatters.

The “private equity treaties“, by which the group invests in companies in return for guaranteed advertising, is seen by many journalists in The Times as a killer blow in a group where the distinction between news and advertisement has almost completely been obliterated. In Delhi, many journalists say that the marketing intrusions have gotten even more brazen in recent times.

An equally key reason could be a signficant realignment of stars within the Times‘ planet.

For long, after bossman Ashok Jain’s death, his widow Indu Jain was chairman of the company, with sons Samir and Vineet Jain being vice-chairmen and managing directors. But there are indications that the reclusive older brother Samir may have made way for his younger sibling, to avoid the kind of intra-family squabbles that have consumed family-owned papers like The Hindu and Deccan Herald.

Businessweek suggests that Vineet may now be completely in charge of Bennett, Coleman & Co as chairman and managing director. In fact, it no longer lists Samir Jain among the key executives of the organisation or on the board of directors. If that report is accurate, it means JoJo, who was seen to be close to Samir, may not share the same vibes with Vineet, who himself might want somebody else for the job.

Rumour and speculation, yes, but the only other option is reading tea leaves.

Besides the Financial Times venture with Network 18, the buzz on the Times‘ newsroom floor in Bombay is that JoJo might be looking at a possible entry of Rupert Murdoch‘s Star group in the print media space, in collaboration with the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, where JoJo served earlier in The Telegraph.

But with Network 18 and Star all cut from the same Bennett, Coleman loincloth that has run Indian media credibility into the ground in boom time, will the softspoken but quietly assertive JoJo, who edited a large newspaper without once sounding like Dileep Padgaonkar (who called it “the second most important job in the country“) want to jump from the third floor into the fire?

Watch the cubicle next to R.K. Laxman‘s.

This is the second time in four years that JoJo’s exit has been the subject of media speculation. In May 2005, when the launch of DNA was in the air, it was rumoured that JoJo would be joining the small mob of his colleagues that had joined the paper. JoJo admitted as much to close friends. But he was wooed back by the Jains. Will they do so again? Or is it one time too many?

The greatgrandmother of all newspaper battles

11 April 2008

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: “Unprecedented” is the most misused and abused word in Indian journalism. Anything—almost everything—that the desk couldn’t check if it had happened before, is effortlessly slapped with the label “unprecedented”.

But 14 April 2008 will truly be an “unprecedented” day in the annals of Indian print media when the first bundle of The Times of India is shrunkwrap in its Madras presses and loaded on to a waiting truck.
It will be unprecedented for at least five reasons:

# It will establish The Times of India as India’s first truly national newspaper brand.

# It will breach the unwritten no-compete “arrangements” between print media behemoths.

# It will test if Madras is really an orthodox, conservative City as the world thinks it is.

# It will pit “serious journalism” versus anything-goes, chalta-hai, page 3 pap.

# It will be a battle that will establish if content is king, or if reader loyalty is hogwash.

Each of those claims are worthy of attention.

The Hindu advertises below its masthead that it has been “India’s national newspaper since 1878″, but the national there only refers to its role in the freedom movement, not its geographical spread. The undivided Indian Express, with 23 editions, claimed that it was “India’s only national newspaper” although it did not print in the East. But ToI‘s Madras edition, on top of editions in Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta makes it “The Masthead of India” (as its TV commercials claim), with editions in all four metro centres of the country.

For the Jains, Samir and Vineet, whose bhagwad gita is the advertising rate-card, that is of enormous signficance, especially if it can take their mother Indu Jain a few notches higher on the Forbes‘ list of Indian women-billionaires.

Second, the buzz, for a long time, was that there was a mutual agreement between the nation’s English media moguls that they would not enter each other’s “profit-centres”. It was first broken when the Hindustan Times went to Bombay three years ago. But Madras had remained a turf of The Hindu through and through. That stranglehold was slightly broken when Deccan Chronicle launched an edition a couple of years ago. But it is only ToI‘s entry on Monday, after several promised launches, that will break the monopoly fully, formally and finally.

However, these “unprecedented” feats are nothing compared to the real thing, which is the battle for the soul of Madras between two centenarians. In that sense not only is the ToI launch unprecedented, it is also historic.

Unlike bindaas Bangalore, Madras prides itself on being a literate City that values the word—or at least The Hindu paints its reader as a literate one who values the word and drinks buttermilk and goes to bed every night after attending a katcheri at the Academy in the evening.

Grim and correct, the “loyal” Hindu reader is said to be a serious, substantive character, not given to frivolous, titillating stuff that captivates the rest of us.

Kosovo more than Kodambakkam; abstract not tactile.

The arcane details of a bilateral contract between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, the full text of the CPI(M) resolution on the 123 agreement, an MP3 of an anti-globalisation Nobel laureate’s speech, report of the expert group on agricultural indebtedness, a (preferably TamBrahm) bureaucrat’s defence of red tape… this is the kind of stuff that The Hindu, as the “paper of record” thinks its readers are dying to read every morning, and this is what its reporters and editors purvey with pride.

V.R. Krishna Iyer‘s fulmination, howsoever mediocre, M.S. Swaminathan‘s latest “note”, howsoever silly, Subramaniam Swamy‘s latest diatribe, howsoever mad, all get full play in the name of seriousness. Its reporters take down notes from railway, election, electricity, forest, and other officials as if they are receiving The Word from God herself.

The more boring the output, the more gray the presentation, the more serious the content, and therefore the more credible the newspaper was the inherent assumption.

Whether the reader really wanted such stuff, we don’t know because he was a hostage; he had no choice. Whether this was all Madras (and India) had to offer no one knew, because there was no other way to know. Whether this was how it was to be presented, in turgid unreadable prose, no one could argue.

The Hindu landed at his doorstep as regularly, and with the same consistency of his sachet of milk. You couldn’t argue with the milkman, you couldn’t argue with the hawker.

That comfort zone gets altered with the arrival of The Times of India.

***

The Hindu has had plenty of time and examples to prepare for this, the greatgrandmother of all newspaper battles. On the one hand, it has seen how ToI entered other established centres and tried to break the existing reader habit.

In Bangalore, Deccan Herald let ToI run all over it. In Delhi, Hindustan Times tried to compete but gave up after a while (after which Shobana Bharatiya was decorated with the ET Businesswoman of the Year). In Hyderabad, Deccan Chronicle played ToI‘s own game better. In Calcutta, The Telegraph has put up a stiff fight.

If The Hindu has learnt anything from these jousts, will be known shortly. But it has certain shown that it is up for a fight.

It got Mario Garcia to put its very old wine in a spanking new bottle. It has launched new supplements like “nxG” for the next generation, and a free tabloid called “Ergo” along the IT corridor. It is even tying up with NDTV to launch a Madras-centric channel called “Metro Nation”. Last week, its staff got generous hikes ranging from 60 per cent to 100 per cent.

Will all that help The Hindu to stave off the challenge?

If history is anything to go by, it has a good chance. Deccan Chronicle, a paper which copied The Times‘ editorial and marketing strategy and kept the ToI challenge at bay in Hyderabad, entered Madras with the same grandiose notion of upsetting The Hindu.

On paper, it clocked a circulation of well over a couple of lakh on a one-rupee cover price which was two full rupees less that of The Hindu, but The Hindu has lost none of its numbers even at the full cover price.

So, a price differential which ToI might offer through an invitation price (Rs 170 for six months, Rs 299 for a year) might not necessarily work wonders, especially in a year when ToI cannot afford to “dump” copies as it usual does, as the group has taken a Rs 400 crore hit on its bottomline because of soaring newsprint prices.

But where ToI differs from DC is in its content. Although its marketing men pride themselves on making the editor irrelevant, ToI is like a chameleon, which can tailor the kind of “serious” coverage that might suit a supposedly serious readership like Madras’.

Plus, it can offer reams and reams of job advertisements and “news you can use” classifieds through all its many partnership deals, which in a consumptive age is not to be sniffed at.

And then there is its marketing muscle. Having firmly embraced the advertising model, ToI sells its thick papers like toothpaste or soap. Its hoardings, its sales executives all dressed in newsprint attire with the line “Next Change” have been the talk of the town, peering from every building and apartment.

Will orthodox, conservative readers who claim to adore serious stuff be able to avoid the temptation of peering into an almost-free publication with plenty of colour, glitz and glamour? Or will only “outsiders” in Madras—the young and unconnected who have come here to work—shift to a paper which they are used to seeing in their hometowns?

The Times‘ executive president Ravi Dhariwal has told a fellow publisher that the paper is aiming at a print order of between 175,000 and 200,000 on day one. That will straightaway establish it as a No. 2 in a market where the revamped Indian Express sells in the low thousands, and DC‘s numbers few believe or care for. But ToI is not coming here to be No. 2, it’s aiming to be No.1.

Through its contemptuous disregard for reader interest in the coverage of Nandigram and Tibet, in particular, The Hindu has shown that it is stuck in an ideological Cooum. Through its disconnect with a changing India, a changing Madras, and changing reader profile, it has taken the high moral ground.

Yet, readers have stuck to it through it because they had no other choice.

And on top of all that have been the increasingly shrill accusations of bias. First an anti-right, anti-BJP bias under Malini Parthasarathy (which was supposed to be alienating the core readership), and then a full scale pro-left bias under N. Ram (whose reinstallation was supposed to provide the course-correction).

But a battle with The Times of India is not about morals; it’s about money and muscle.

In Madras, from Monday, it’s the battle of two worldviews between two centenarians.

In one corner is a left-of-centre 128-year-old which silently says we are right, this is what the official/minister told us; which says the world is falling apart, take our word for it; which says the movie to watch this Friday is a long-lost Francois Truffaut , and have you heard the Subramanyam Bharati number which M.S. Subbulakshmi didn’t record?

In the other corner is a 170-year-old will o’ the wisp which says screw farmers, the world is a great place if you just keep buying the stuff our advertisers sell; corruption is here to stay yaar, why bother, I’m OK you’re OK; which says the individual is bigger than society; which says Munnabhai MBBS was great but Lage Raho should have got the Oscar.

In its own ways, The Hindu has shown it won’t change, will its readers oblige?

Also read: When my newspaper is no longer my newspaper

Blogger Views: How will The Hindu react?

The Hindu versus The Times of India

Yuck, ToI is coming to Madras

The Hindu is afraid of The Times of India

Image: courtesy AgencyFAQs

Cross-posted on churumuri

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

28 January 2008

The Times of India group’s decision to make strategic investments in mid-level companies, in return for guaranteed advertising and editorial exposure in the group’s publications and media vehicles, through the quaintly named “Private Treaties“, has had several other media houses following suit.

Hindustan Times is said to be well on its way to establishing a similar division. Television majors like NDTV and CNBC are following suit. And as if to show that language publications are not lagging behind, influential Hindi groups like Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran are also off the blocks.

SALIL TRIPATHI, the London-based journalist, formerly with India Today and The Indian Post, and whose work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, and International Herald Tribune, among other publications, writes of the damage these wheels-within-wheels deals cause.

***

By SALIL TRIPATHI in London

Most serious and professional newspapers recognize the need to separate editorial and advertising. The Wall Street Journal goes further, separating fact and opinion. So do other major US newspapers, but WSJ‘s distinctness stems from separate management structures for both.

At the convention of the South Asian Journalists’ Association (SAJA), New York Times editor Bill Keller said that the management structure of the edit page and news pages at the NYT, too, were separate. Which is how it should be, but all newspapers don’t have the luxury of such a roster of writers and management structures.

When editorial and advertising blend, the first casualty is credibility. A reader simply cannot know if a particular company, product, or an idea being promoted is because there’s a mass base of support for it, or because some experts like it, or is it because of financial considerations.

The Times of India‘s new business concept, Private Treaties, is audacious, innovative, and breathtaking. And incredibly underwhelming. It trades advertising for equity in companies.

As described in its poorly-designed, shoddily-edited, and jargon-filled website, it creates intangible value for companies in which the TOI group has a stake, by highlighting its intangible qualities, through the medium of TOI‘s publications.

If all that it means is a promotion restricted to discounted rates for advertising in the TOI, that would be simple enough, and acceptable to most purists in journalism. But with the Times you are never sure. In the past, it has encouraged its reporters to go on junkets to tourist resorts, and not always revealed the nature of the hospitality received.

When the Times group has launched its own businesses such as music, entertainment and so on, using prominent Indian performers, the newspaper’s page 1 has to give way to stories about that event, as though it is the most talked about event in town, if not the only event in town.

I recall in the mid-1990s, there were days of reporting on a modern ballet called Yes!, being staged under the choreography of my classmate from college in Bombay, the gifted dancer Shiamak Davar. The editor-in-chief would call senior Times editors to get hold of writers who’d say nice things about Yes!

A tax raid on TOI‘s owners in the 1980s got barely a mention in the newspaper.

When things got tough, the Jain family’s tax battles with the Indian government were cast as a human rights issue. A writer on the TOI edit page went on a junket with a European pharmaceutical company, and wrote an edit page piece extolling the medicine. Nothing wrong with a story about health on the TOI‘s edit page, but something was rotten in the state of Bori Bunder, if such a story appeared out of the blue, and no rival brand got similar coverage, or even comparison in that piece.

Then, the Times went the whole hog, with features like Impact and Spotlight, when news articles appeared on news pages, which were essentially advertisements.

When a plucky blog, Mediaah! ridiculed some of the practices at the Old Lady of Bori Bunder, the Times‘s legal eagles threatened to sue the website. Pradyuman Maheshwari, the spirited journalist who kept it going, decided to close shop. It is, therefore, refreshing to see Times‘s Gautam Adhikari writing that his paper believes in publish-and-be-damned liberalism.

It is against this background that the Private Treaties are highly suspect.

However much the Times might claim that it keeps editorial and advertising separate – when we know that’s not really the case—there will be an impact. A reporter chasing a story against a company in which the Times group has an equity stake will feel obliged to go softly. A reporter chasing a scandal involving a film star whose music is marketed by the Times group, will view the release of the CD differently.

It is so obvious, that it does not even need stating.

A property scandal, or a scam, involving a company that advertises in the newspaper may be problematic for some editors; how much more complicated it can get when the Times group has an equity stake in that company? And wouldn’t the negative story drive down the value of the investment?

There are sound reasons why across the world, editors try to keep editorial and advertising separate, to enhance the credibility of the editorial matter. When I worked with a US-owned magazine (Far Eastern Economic Review) and wrote an extensive piece on conflict of interest within some leading US investment banks, even though those banks were prominent advertisers in my magazine, at no stage did any editor tell me to go easy on that story.

At the Dow Jones group, reporters cannot own stocks in companies they write about. Other major US papers have similar codes.

In my reporting days in Bombay in the 1980s, I’ve seen, with great dismay, financial reporters of several leading Indian dailies rushing out of a press conference where a company has declared its results, to make phone calls to their brokers to buy or sell shares (there were no cell phones then).

Mint, the new business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group, has transparently placed its code of conduct on the web. It also recently declared to its readers how it would publish advertorials, and how they would be distinct from edit pages, and how edit staff would not be involved in preparing them. (The International Herald Tribune and other American publications do likewise).

Unless the Times institutes similar safeguards, it would seem that Private Treaties marks another step in the journey the Times—“the leader [that] guards the reader”—has taken, transforming the nature of journalism.

In the late 1980s, the Times group had begun distributing promotional products in a plastic bag, together with the magazine, Illustrated Weekly of India, which the Times used to publish. We used to throw those products away, preferring to read the magazine. Now the magazine is gone; the toothpaste remains.

Hopefully, the Times, in its drive to enhance the value of companies it invests in through this innovative mechanism, will also attach some value to its readers.

Disclosure: I write frequently for Mint, and the Wall Street Journal‘s international editions; often for the International Herald Tribune, and on rare occasions for the Times of India. But this is not a case of sour grapes.

Photograph: courtesy saliltripathi.com

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

Forbes can name India’s second richest woman

22 November 2007

 

The gloves are well and truly coming off in New Delhi.

The marketing heavyweights, Hindustan Times and The Times of India, first joined hands to launch a tabloid Metro Now to preempt tabloid Mail Today. And then HT refused to run the ads of the new paper launched by the India Today group.

Now, Mail Today has carried a court story on Indu Jain, the bosswoman of the Times Group, and the mother of Sameer Jain and Vineet Jain, in today’s paper.

FORBES CAN NAME INDIA’S SECOND RICHEST WOMAN NOW

Delhi High Court has refused to restrain Forbes from publishing personal and financial details of Bennett, Coleman & Company Ltd.’s chairman Indu Jain in its list of India’s 40 richest.

Indu Jain is the second richest woman in India. Her wealth is estimated at US $ 4.4 billion (Rs 17,307.4 crore), according to Forbes. But she did not want the magazine to publish this.

The October 12, 2007 court order came on an application seeking an injunction against Forbes Magazine. Bennett & Coleman, India’s biggest media house and publishers of The Times of India had moved court against the premier publication in November last year.

Though the court, in its interim order, had earlier restrained Forbes from naming her in its list, the order was revoked after hearing arguments on the application on merits. The suit filed by Bennett, Coleman against Forbes is pending before the High Court.

Mail Today called Jain’s office, but nobody was available for comment. The managing director’s office acknowledged the case, but refused comment.

The magazine ranks Jain 17th in its list and pegs her worth at $ 4.4 billion. The list has only one other woman richer than her—Savitri Jindal, who is worth $ 8.5 billion.

Jain’s contention was that Forbes had invaded her privacy by including her in its list. Forbes countered saying it had disseminated “legitimate news”. Only a few such as Jain of the privately-held Bennett, Coleman had reached billionaire status. She was a public figure and her wealth was not a private matter, Forbes argued.

Bennett, Coleman’s contention was that her financial worth was private and couldn’t be published without her consent. “Jain appeared in two previous Forbes rich lists—the 2005 list of India’s 40 richest and the 2006 global billionaires’ list. Each of these had included her net worth, her marital status and role as chairman of Bennett, Coleman,” Forbes said.

Her representatives, Forbes contended, had objected to her inclusion in these prior lists, but, nevertheless, supplied company information. Jain heads the Times Foundation and is known for her philanthropic work.

After months of hearings on the matter and legal submissions, the Delhi High Court issued a 147-page opinion.

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