Posts Tagged ‘Livemint’

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?

Will TV channels lose out to newspapers by 2050?

18 April 2013

Before the reforms of 1991 prised open the doors of Indian journalism (and the minds and wallets of publishers and promoters), “Gulf” was the El Dorado journalists and editors chased. In Bombay and Bangalore and Delhi, dozens of journalists and editors attended road shows and group-interviews in the banquet halls of five-star hotels.

Khaleej Times, Gulf News, The Peninsula… would eventually be the ports of call that beckoned some of India’s bigget and brightest names, from S. Nihal Singh to Pranay Gupte, Bikram Vohra to Khalid A.H. Ansari.

Khaleej Times turned 35 years old this week and like the rest of its dead-tree brethren across the globe is coming to terms with the realities of the modern world. Ramesh Prabhu who left Mid Day, Bombay, to join the Dubai paper, writes in the anniversary issue on the what the next 35 years holds for newspaper journalism.

***

By RAMESH PRABHU

Eight years ago, while addressing college students at a media seminar in Bangalore, the editor-in-chief of The Indian Express group had bemoaned the fact that television news was chipping away at the raisons d’être of newspapers.

Television channels had expropriated from the dailies, Shekhar Gupta said, the who, what, when, and where of news. “Of the five W’s and one H,” he told the audience, “we are now left with only the why and the how.”

Shades of “Video killed the radio star”?

At the time, in 2005, when Gupta was dwelling on a topic that would resonate with newspaper journalists everywhere, it had not yet become clear that Google was well on its way to eating the newspaper industry’s lunch and dinner, having already chomped down its breakfast.

Quite a few people, especially young adults, were going online to get the who, what, when, and where of news. And when there were no compelling reasons to look for, or to understand, the why and the how, what did they have to read a newspaper for?

Cut to 2013. Already, the iconic Newsweek has gone “all-digital”, while other print publications, including daily newspapers, especially in the West, are in the doldrums, pondering a future without a physical presence, as in the case of Newsweek, or any presence at all, as in the case of the Chicago Daily News and the Baltimore Examiner (visit NewspaperDeathWatch.com for all the gory details).

What to do?

***

Parvathi Menon, resident editor of the Bangalore edition of The Hindu, recently gave aspiring journalists something to think about regarding this issue.

Speaking at a local media college’s annual seminar in February, Menon referred to the economic problems plaguing the industry but she asserted that the principles of journalism have not changed and do not need to change; it is only the medium that is changing.

She also spoke about the urgent need for newspapers to figure out how to make money off their Web offerings. The underlying message: Newspapers are not going to survive, leave alone thrive, unless they come up with a sound online strategy.

But what constitutes a sound online strategy?

The New York Times, one of the world’s great newspapers, has been thinking hard about the answer to this question for some years now.

As far back as July 2008, responding to a reader’s question on the newspaper’s website, Marc Frons, the executive in charge of digital operations, had written that the goal was to enable “our readers to have the best of both worlds — technology that allows them to personalize aspects of their experience while at the same time highlighting the editorial judgment that’s unique to The Times”.

In other words, the aim at The Times was, and is, to engage with its audience not just once a day at the breakfast table but throughout the day with a continually updated, reader-friendly website.

***

Closer home, in India, the respected business paper, Mint, last year adopted what it calls a Web-first philosophy. What does this mean for the reader?

The editor, R. Sukumar, explained in a note in the paper that stories would now be broken first on the website, and updated continuously if they merit updates. The note continued (bear with me here for reproducing the longish excerpt below, but this will help us to understand the manifold changes newspapers need to think about making):

“It means opinion and analysis pieces, too, appear first on the Web, soon after a big event, so that the readers can understand what it means. It means the extensive use of social media to amplify stories, engage with readers, and also, in some cases, to constantly provide updates on developing-by-the-minute stories. It means the extensive use of multimedia, including video. It means reaching out to people on a variety of devices (phones, tablets) through apps and a dynamic website.

“It means producing a paper that factors in everything we have done in the past 12 hours and understanding what makes most sense for readers, sometimes a full 18 hours after the original news has broken. And it means doing all this without compromising our integrity or high journalistic standards.”

There is no better way to chart out what should be the priorities of every newspaper today.

Note the emphasis on reaching out to people on a variety of devices. Most young people I know do not subscribe to a daily newspaper. And they will not read a newspaper, if they can help it. If at all they make an attempt to glean the day’s news, they do it by firing up an app on their mobile phones or using their mobiles to surf online.

Note, too, the emphasis on editorial judgment in The Times executive’s quote, and on journalistic standards in the Mint editor’s note.

***

The zillions of bloggers out there offer news of a sort, sure, but the writing on most blogs, apart from being of poor quality, is often slanted and ill-informed, making it difficult to comprehend what one is reading. Only trained and experienced journalists can provide editorial judgment and be expected to uphold high journalistic standards.

(Yes, and this is sad but true, some publications have justly earned a reputation for being on the make. However, I believe that the greater number of newspapers — and journalists — take very seriously their role as watchdogs of society. This is a discussion, though, for another occasion.)

But are editorial judgment and high journalistic standards enough to attract the next generation of readers, the people who will form the bulk of the readership 35 years from now? The answer appears to be “No”, going by the indifference to newspapers of young people today.

If we want them to read news on handheld devices and if we want newspapers to become the go-to sites on their screens, we need, as journalists, to focus on what I term the three E’s of journalism: engage, entertain, enlighten.

Given that the basic values and disciplines of journalism have been imbibed and are being practised, the writing has to be top-notch, above all. There was a time when the No. 1 quality sought in journalists was their nose for news, their ability to judge newsworthiness; if their writing skills were, at best, adequate, it was considered good enough.

But adequate writing skills are not good enough today. And they won’t be any good in 2050.

Indifferent writing breeds indifferent readers.

Quality writing attracts readers of all kinds.

In a topical book I am reading just now, The Imperfectionists by journalist-turned-novelist Tom Rachman, published in 2010, the editor of a Rome-based newspaper tells the mediator at an industry conference that news will survive and quality coverage will always earn a premium.

“Whatever you want to call it,” she says, “news, text, content — someone has to report it, someone has to write it, someone has to edit it.”

Rachman’s fictional editor, Kathleen Solson, also discusses living in an era when technology is moving at an unheralded pace. “I can’t tell you if in fifty years we’ll be publishing in the same format,” she tells the mediator. “Actually I can probably tell you we won’t be publishing in the same way, that we’ll be innovating then, just as we are now.”

On that promising note, I am going to go out on a limb and predict that 35 years from now when Khaleej Times sets out to hire journalists for its expanded web-print empire, it will be looking for tech-proficient reporters and editors who have not only been trained in Journalism 101 but also have exceptional writing skills, even new writing skills that we are missing out on now.

They will be able to speedily compose and edit articles that will engage, entertain, and enlighten readers. Articles that will be read from first word to last. Articles that will give readers compelling reasons to stay glued to their screens.

The five W’s and one H of news will be buttressed by two additional, crucial elements: “So what?” and “What next?”

There will be an incentive to care about the news again. And a well-known television journalist, speaking at a media seminar in 2050 in Dubai, will then lament how TV news channels are losing out to newspapers.

What is it they say about just deserts?

(Ramesh Prabhu has worked as a journalist in Mumbai, Dubai, and Bangalore, having begun his career with Mid Day in 1981. He is now professor of journalism at Commits Institute of Journalism & Mass Communication, Bangalore.)

‘Darkest hour for media since the Emergency?’

13 September 2012

Is it a good thing that the Supreme Court of India has not announced guidelines for media coverage of court cases? Or has it opened the floodgates by introducing a “neturalising device” that underlines the right of the accused to seek postponement of coverage on a case-by-case basis?

And, by introducing a “constitutional principle” has the judiciary appropriated to itself the power of the legislature to make law?

***

The Tribune, Chandigarh: Thoughtless curbs

The Supreme Court judgment that courts can defer media coverage of a case for a short period if there is a danger to an individual’s right to fair trial will curb freedom of the Press, limit the people’s right to know and unnecessarily encourage litigation. Growing complaints of “trial by media” had prompted Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia to initiate a discussion on framing guidelines for court reporting….

There is a growing tendency in the judiciary as well as the executive to curb free speech. The Allahabad High Court banned all media reporting of troop movements after a news report hinted at a coup attempt. The government recently gagged social media sites on the pretext of restoring order. The arrest of a West Bengal professor for circulating a cartoon, the removal of cartoons from school textbooks and the slapping of a sedition case against a cartoonist for disrespecting the national emblem are other instances of executive intolerance of dissent. Vague judgments like the one in the Sahara case will only fuel this tendency.

**

Deccan Herald, Bangalore: Gag on media

A fresh threat to the right to free speech and expression, which has been sanctified by the Constitution, has come from an unlikely place, the Supreme Court of India, which has in the past protected and promoted it as a basic entitlement of citizens. Its judgement empowering courts to ban reporting of hearings in cases where there is a perceived chance of interference in free and fair trial amounts to muzzling media freedom. It needs to be opposed like all other assaults on the functioning on the media, which are becoming frequent now.

The court has propounded a  ‘constitutional principle’  which would allow aggrieved parties to seek postponement of the publication of hearings if they are seen to be prejudicial to the administration of justice. But this is disguising an unfair restriction as a constitutional doctrine, creating a devious device to undermine a basic right.

**

The Indian Express: Lines of control

This “doctrine of postponement” of reporting is meant to be a preventive measure, rather than a punitive one, and is intended to balance the right of free speech with the right to a fair trial. The courts, the SC said, will evaluate each appeal carefully, guided by considerations of necessity and proportionality. However, the very outlining of the principle, in effect, leaves journalism at the mercy of the high court, rather than being internally regulated with better editorial gatekeeping.

**

The Hindu: Don’t compromise open justice

The Supreme Court’s judgment justifying a temporary ban on the publication of court proceedings in certain cases is likely to have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press and the very idea of an open trial…. Indeed, by emphasising the right of an aggrieved person to seek postponement of media coverage of an ongoing case by approaching the appropriate writ court, there is a danger that gag orders may become commonplace. At a minimum, the door has been opened to hundreds and thousands of additional writs — a burden our legal system is unprepared to handle — filed by accused persons with means.

**

Mint: Judgment and some worries

While the court prescribed tests of reasonableness, among others, on deciding issues of postponement, time is of the essence for media and citizens dependent on it for information. It is not far-fetched to presume that during this period of stasis, reporters and editors, can be arm-twisted into submission. The judgement whittles down an already embattled freedom available to the Press. It will add psychological pressure and uncertainty in an already difficult environment.

**

Business Standard: Tilting the balance

Tuesday’s judgment has done is to tilt the balance in favour of litigants seeking court interventions — which might well result in the imposition of such gag orders on the media. To that extent, the apex court’s order is prone to misuse…. The legal process (of deferement) is certain to cast an adverse impact on the freedom of the media and undermine the people’s right to know about such cases before the court.

Instead of paving the way for such curbs, it would perhaps make more sense if the courts took upon themselves the responsibility of allowing independent and comprehensive electronic coverage of court cases that both the people and the media can freely access for information or reportage. That would be a more effective way of ensuring that the coverage of court proceedings does not create the risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice or to the fairness of trials.

**

The Times of India: Chilling effect

The bench headed by outgoing Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia came up with an alternative approach to maintaining the balance between free speech and fair trial. Drawing upon the contempt law, the apex court devised a judicial power to order the postponement of publication as a last resort. Even this, however, may negatively impact the salutary principle that trials be held in public, as powerful defendants could routinely invoke such postponement orders….  The media is anyway a heterogeneous entity and the right of journalists to cover court proceedings is an essential attribute of a fair trial.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Sachin Tendulkar, Mid-Day & the Indian Express

28 January 2012

Thankfully, Sachin Tendulkar‘s below-par performance on the Australian tour has dimmed the spotlight somewhat on the Indian media batting for a Bharat Ratna for the cricketer in quest for his 100th hundred.

In Lounge, the Saturday section of the business daily Mint, columnist Aakar Patel argues why, among other reasons, Sachin shouldn’t get the nation’s highest civilian honour:

“On 15 April 1999, just before the World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar’s car hit a Maruti 800 in Bandra. Tendulkar got [Shiv Sena chief] Bal Thackeray to telephone Mid Day, the paper I joined the following year.

“He warned them against carrying the story. This was surprising because nobody had been seriously hurt in the accident.

“Thackeray told the paper running the story would damage “national interest”.

“What was this national interest? Mohammad Azharuddin was about to be sacked, Thackeray explained, and Tendulkar was likely to become captain again. Such stories could spoil his chances. Except The Indian Express, no newspaper ran the story. In July, Azhar was sacked and Tendulkar was named captain.”

Since that story, Tendulkar and Thackeray, Bandra-ites both, have had a small run-in over the batsman’s statement that “he was an Indian first and Marathi too, but Mumbai belongs to all“.

Read the full column: Why Sachin shouldn’t get the Bharat Ratna

Also read: ‘Indian journalism is regularly second-rate’

Prime minister, maybe, but not a very good sub-editor

Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-TV18-ETV deal

16 January 2012

Finally, some critical coverage of the Reliance-Network18/TV18-ETV deal in the business media.

Mint, the business newspaper from the Hindustan Times stable, has a story in today’s issue that the stock market regulator, SEBI, is looking into RIL’s financial statements and reports to see if the company had divulged its holding or investment in ETV before the matter became public.

RIL revealed in 2011 in response to a petition filed by the late Andhra Pradesh chief minsiter Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy‘s widow, Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, that it had put in money into Ushodaya Enterprises, ETV’s holding company, through Nimesh Kampani‘s JM Financial in 2008.

Vijayalakshmi had alleged (page 32 of petition) that RIL’s investment in Ushodaya was its way of saying thanks to the previous TDP government of Chandrababu Naidu, for wilfully surrendering Andhra Pradesh’s right over the discovery of gas in the Krishna-Godavari basin in favour of RIL.

Eenadu founder Ramoji Rao, an associate of Naidu, had been used by RIL as a “vehicle of the quid pro quo.”

Now, Mint quotes an unnamed “senior SEBI official” as saying:

“SEBI is looking into whether RIL has disclosed in any of its financial reports about its holding or acquisition of stakes in Eenadu Group to the shareholders. It is mandatory to disclose such information to the shareholders.”

A second unnamed source is quoted as saying:

“Prima facie, information about RIL’s holding in Eenadu Group is not disclosed anywhere specifically. As per the listing agreement norms, it should have been mandatorily disclosed. This amounts to possible violations of regulations.”

S.P. Tulsian, a stock market analyst who often appears on CNBC-TV18, is quoted as saying:

“I am surprised that RIL said in the Andhra Pradesh high court that the stake acquired by JM Financial in the ETV channels was on behalf of itself. I went through the balance sheet but did not find anything of this nature.”

Niraj Mansingka, an analyst at Edelweiss Securities Ltd, is quoted as saying:

“We believe the equity investment [by RIL in Eenadu group] may have been consummated recently as the same is not a part of RIL’s FY11 annual report.”

The question marks over RIL’s disclosure of its investment in ETV underline a quote from an unnamed “broadcast veteran” in an Outlook* magazine article:

“What Mukesh Ambani [of RIL] has tried to do is take his investment out of a bad asset into a viable asset and make a profit in the process.”

* Disclosures apply

Infographic: courtesy The Economic Times

Read the full article: Regulator looking into RIL-ETV deal

Also read: Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

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

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

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

All the news that is fit to cook, serve and eat

9 December 2011

Although his reputation as a political journalist lies in tatters after the Niira Radia tapes, Vir Sanghvi is still a marquee food name in the Hindustan Times‘ Sunday magazine, Brunch. When not reporting for his paper’s hunger project, former HT managing editor Samar Halarnkar whips up a food column in the business daily Mint, titled Our Daily Bread

Business Standard opinion pages editor Mihir S. Sharma used to do a food column of sorts in his former port of call, The Indian Express even while he was gorging on sweet meat. And rare is the journalist who doesn’t confess to spending quality time in the kitchen to “destress”.

Which leads us to ask, after cooking up stuff at their day-job—in a manner of speaking—does cooking food come naturally to journalists? Or can only a cook who knows what to serve for the body know what it takes to serve for the mind?

Sourish Bhattacharyya writes about the latest chef on the block in Mail Today:

Journalists seem to have discovered a second career in the kitchen. [Former ToI and Express staffer] Satish Warrier led the way with the much- acclaimed Gunpowder in Hauz Khas Village and now Arun Kumar, journalist-turned-filmmakerturned-chef (in picture, above), has rescued Zambar from its amateurish foray into South Indian cuisine….

Unlike Jiggs Kalra, who was the first journalist to get into the food business but has never cooked in his life, Arun Kumar ( like Satish Warrier) has been a serious hobby chef. He picked up recipes on his many filmmaking assignments across the country and replicated them for Ritu Dalmia’s catering company.

Photograph: courtesy Mail Today

Also read: When Samir served a thali, Vineet served a scoop

Julie & Julia, Betty Crocker and “Premila Lal

ToI food writer Sabina Sehgal Saikia is dead: RIP

Times, Express groups get most anniversary ads

19 November 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For the final anniversary of the year of India’s “Family No. 1″—the birth anniversary of the nation’s first woman prime minister Indira Gandhi—there are 70 advertisements amounting to 32 published pages in 12 English newspapers that have been surveyed through the year by sans serif.

With this anniversary, the total number of government ads to mark the three birth and three death anniversaries of the three former prime ministers from the family—Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi—in the year of the lord 2011 goes up to 393.

In effect, the government has bought space amounting to 190¼ pages in the 12 newspapers.

# The Times of India is the biggest beneficiary of the ad blitz to mark the six anniversaries among the general-interest newspapers with 65 published ads followed by Indian Express 62, Hindustan Times 57, The Hindu 42, The Pioneer 41, Mail Today 36, The Statesman 25 and The Telegraph 18 ads.

# The Economic Times and Business Standard top the list of the busines dailies with 14 ads each, followed by the Financial Express with 11 ads. Mint (from the Hindustan Times stable) has received just one ad for the six anniversaries.

# As a group, the Times group has received 79 ads in all, the Express group 73 ads, and the Hindustan Times 58 ads.

While it is natural that ToI and HT should garner so many ads given their large circulations in the national capital, the second place for the Express group is revealing considering it sells less than five per cent of market-leaders ToI and HT in the Delhi market, which both sell in excess of 5 lakh copies.

The tabloid Mail Today, which has the third highest circulation among the Delhi newspapers, too gets fewer ads than the Indian Express.

***

The affection of various Union ministries, departments and State governments for the three departed leaders of the family is revealing.

While Rajiv Gandhi tops the charts with 177 advertisements amounting to 89 pages for his birth and death anniversaries, Indira Gandhi comes second with 134 ads amounting to 64 pages, followed by Pandit Nehru at a lowly 82 ads amounting to 37¼ pages.

***

The breakup of the Indira Gandhi ads today are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 10 Indira ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 4¾ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 14 ads amounting to 5¾ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 5½ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 20-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 3 broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 18-page issue; 6 ads amounting to 2¾ broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 26-page issue; 0 ads amounting to 0 broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 16-page main issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 18-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ pages

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ pages

Mint (Berliner): 12-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, culture, water resources, statistics and programme implementation, north eastern region, micro small and medium enterprises, social justice and empowerment.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, there are ads of the national commission for women.

***

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

Sanjaya Baru quits BS to join strategic thinktank

10 September 2011

Sanjaya Baru is stepping down as editor of Busines Standard less than two years after he took over from T.N. Ninan.

On his Facebook page, Baru, former media advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh, posted this status update:

“OK, now it is final! From 1st November I step down as Editor, BS and take over as Director, Geo-economics and Strategy at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London. But, based in Delhi.”

Newspaper image: courtesy Mint

Also read: It’s official, about the return of Sanjaya Baru

When editor makes way for editor, gracefully

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

‘Media standards haven’t kept pace with growth’

‘Business TV channels obsessed with breasts’

31 July 2011

Mint editor R.Sukumar:

“Cleavage,” he said…. Big ones, he said, moving his hands out till they were at least 10 inches in front of his chest….

The person, who worked for a business news channel, was telling me why the channel had hired a certain anchor for its morning stock market show….

I didn’t pay much heed to what he said till another person, from another business news channel, told me the same story.

She got three times her current salary, for agreeing to leave the top two buttons of her shirt unbuttoned, he said, referring to an anchor who had recently switched channels….

I have not seen any of NDTV’s channels do this, nor Times Now and CNN-IBN. And the business channels are the worst offenders….

I know some women anchors on business channels. Many of them are smart—or are on their way to getting there—and I can’t believe they agree to go along with on-the-edge wardrobe suggestions put forth by their producers….”

Read the article: Cult Fiction

Also read: What Kerala journos do at Arundhati Roy presser

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