Posts Tagged ‘Manoj Kumar Sonthalia’

A new paper in India’s most crowded market

15 August 2013

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With the South-based New Indian Express group of Manoj Kumar Sonthalia entering the Delhi market with the Sunday Standard, the North-based Indian Express group of Viveck Goenka has returned the favour by entering the Bangalore market with the National Standard.

The 20-page daily, priced at Rs 4, has been launched on Independence Day with a near identical pagination as the main paper in Delhi, but with a strong component of national news, a key blank in the existing newspapers in Bangalore.

Writes Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta in the launch issue of National Standard:

“We will work to translate the news—and noise—of New Delhi to help you understand how it affects life in the city…. As a newspaper, National Standard will strive to be as complete as Bangalore’s bisi bele baath, that delicious mix of rice, lentils and vegetables.”

After the split in the Indian Express group following Ramnath Goenka‘s demise in the mid-1990s, his adopted son Viveck Goenka got the Express editions in the North, West and East, and Financial Express, which had no geographical boundaries.

The southern editions went to Manoj Sonthalia, who relaunched the publications in the South and Orissa as The New Indian Express. (Manoj Sonthalia’s mother and Viveck Goenka’s mother are sisters.)

(Ramnath Goenka’s daughter-in-law Saroj Goenka (Goenka’s biological son B.D. Goenka had predeceased him), got the lion’s share of the group’s real estate, including the Express building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg and Express estate in Madras, on a portion of which she has built that city’s biggest mall, Express Avenue.)

The Manoj Sonthalia and Viveck Goenka groups had an agreement not to step on each other’s turfs, which was broken with the launch of Sunday Standard under Prabhu Chawla. The northern group took the matter to court but in vain.

For the record, The Times of India is the market leader in India’s most crowded English newspaper market, Bangalore, with a circulation said to be at least two times more than no.2 placed Deccan Herald .

The New Indian Express, The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle, DNA, are all also-rans. The National Standard is printed at the DNA‘s press in Bangalore.

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‘Shekhar Gupta has done a fantastic job at IE’

9 July 2013

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A new son rises in the west. Anant Goenka, the scion of the Indian Express (Bombay) group of Viveck Goenka, and the grandson of Ramnath Goenka, has given an interview to the Mint on the digital future he has envisioned for the paper.

The 27-year-old talks about his father’s superstitions, about growing up in a house in Nariman Point with a press in the basement, of the ravages caused to what was once India’s largest newspaper group by the split in the family in the mid-1990s—and of the fine job done by its current editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta in restoring some of its lost lustre.

When did you realize you were interested in the newspaper business?

I always loved it. There are photographs of Ramnath-ji taking me to the press at a very young age. The press was in my house, it was in the basement of the Express Towers (in Mumbai), so every night I would always take a walk down with dad or mom.

I’ve always had a lot of love, passion and affection for Express because of the kind of stories that you hear about it, kind of change it’s made with the Emergency stories. It’s too inspiring to be able to walk away from. It’s always been something that I wanted to do….

What kind of relationship do you share with the editor?

I think Shekhar (Gupta) has done a fantastic job with Express.

If you look at the last 13 years, we have had some really rough patches. I think ever since the family fight, and ever since Express was split three ways, it really cost the group. Real estate, what is worth about a billion dollars now, went to Ramnathj-ji’s daughter-in-law, Saroj Goenka. Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, my uncle, got The Indian Express in the south.

We had to let go of Express Towers in Noida. In Delhi, we have been very unlucky. We pay market rent on this building (Express Building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg) to Saroj Goenka, dadiji as I call her.

The position that we have today is something that has worked but it also worked because of Shekhar’s complete editorial independence. And he has ruthlessly cut costs. We have come down from 4,000 to 2,400 people.

Photograph: Pritam Sengupta

Read the full interview: Anant Goenka

Also read: The Express journo who broke the chopper scam

‘Kannada Prabha’ is now Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s

1 July 2011

Kannada Prabha, the Kannada daily established by Ramnath Goenka, has a new owner from today, 1 July 2011: mobile phone baron turned businessman and member of Parliament, Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Chandrasekhar’s Jupiter Media & Entertainment Ventures  began the creeping acquisition of Kannada Prabha, valued at Rs 250 crore, through a “strategic business alliance” with Kannada Prabha Publications in March 2010.

The stake transfer is now complete, according to sources in the know, although neither side has issued a formal communication yet on the extent or completion of the acquistion.

The purchase of the paper means Chandrasekhar now has a Kannada newspaper and a Kannada news channel in his armoury in Bangalore. No other Kannada paper or channel has cross-media ownership.

Former Vijaya Karnataka editor, Vishweshwar Bhat, who was appointed editor-in-chief of Kannada Prabha in February, is slated to take simultaneous control of the Suvarna News 24×7 channel, as group editor.

Kannada Prabha, which has occupied the landmark Express building on Queen’s Road in Bangalore, will move to a new premises in October which it will share with Suvarna News.

File photograph: Make-up men work on Kannada Prabha editor Vishweshwar Bhat for a television commercial for Suvarna News in April.

‘A heritage title’ returns to the capital of India

5 April 2011

The Sunday Standard, the new weekend paper from the Madras-based New Indian Express group, has been launched from Delhi. The 16-page paper with a 16-page magazine section, lists former India Today names Prabhu Chawla as editorial director and the writer-cartoonist Ravi Shankar as executive editor. The paper is priced at Rs 4.

The launch issue of the paper has a brief introductory note on page one, column one:

Namaskar

It is with great pleasure that we launch The Sunday Standard in Delhi today. The venture is new, but the title is old. Started by N.J. Hamilton in Bombay in 1936 with R.K. Karanjia as editor, The Sunday Standard was taken over by Ramnath Goenka and built into a beloved icon of the early years of Independence.

That it is part of a great legacy carrying with it the imprint of eminent writers and managers besides the incomparable Ramnathji himself is a fact that fills my colleagues and me with humility. At the same time, we are proud to bring a heritage title to life in the national capital at a very critical time in the history of our country.

We seek your support in our endeavours. Ultimately, a newspaper is a public service and we wish The Sunday Standard to be seen as a such. We would like nothing more than being a partner alongside you in building a tomorrow that will make all of us proud f this precious country.

Thank you and best wishes.

Manoj Kumar Sonthalia

Chairman, The New Indian Express group

The first issue has an opinion poll, introduced by another ex-India Today staffer V. Shankkar Aiyar, which says the BJP’s Narendra Modi is seen as the top opposition choice for prime minister. Among the other columnists in the launch issue are Shiela Dikshit, Khushbooo, Manish Tiwari and Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Also read: Will The Sunday Standard set the Yamuna on fire?

Vol I. No.I: Straight drives from the man behind Seedhi Baat

Vol I. No IIHome truths from the man behind Sachchi Baat

Prabhu Chawla: My greatest feat, and failure

Will The Sunday Standard set the Yamuna on fire?

31 March 2011

Dummy editions of The Sunday Standard, the weekly newspaper from the Madras-based New Indian Express group, have begun doing the rounds. The eight-page dummy printed on standard newsprint seems to suggest that the 21st century weekend paper will have a conventional, 1990s design.

Edited by former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, the paper was originally slated to be launched on March 20, and is now rumoured to see the light of day in “early April“.

The Sunday Standard will compete with M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian, and the Crest edition of The Times of India for weekend readership. Former India Today executive editor, the cartoonist Ravi Shankar, is among the more familiar bylines in the dummy issue of The Sunday Standard.

The Sunday edition of the original Indian Express of Ramnath Goenka used to be sold under The Sunday Standard masthead, before the split in the family. The old title is being revived by the south-based Manoj Kumar Sonthalia to gain a foothold in Delhi in a manner that will circumvent the no-compete clause with the north and west-based Viveck Goenka.

Vishweshwar Bhat, new editor of Kannada Prabha

7 February 2011

Vishweshwar Bhat, the former editor of the mass-circulation Vijaya Karnataka belonging to The Times of India group, has joined the State’s fourth largest paper, Kannada Prabha, as editor-in-chief, in a move that is likely to shake up the Kannada newspaper market in more ways than one.

Bhat was introduced to the editorial staff and management team of Kannada Prabha by Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, chairman and managing director of The New Indian Express group which owns Kannada Prabha, in Bangalore this evening.

On his newly launched blog, Bhat called the shift to Kannada Prabha a “homecoming”, having served it for four years as sub-editor in the initial stages of his career and then having done another four years at the Asian Schoool of Journalism when it was launched by the Express group.

Bhat confirmed the shift to sans serif. (An announcement of the appointment was made on the front page of Kannada Prabha on Tuesday, February 8)

The popular yet controversial Bhat quit Vijaya Karnataka on 8 December 2010, and the market had since been abuzz about his next port of call. Bhat himself wrote on his blog that he briefly considered launching a new newspaper but had to abandon the idea of a startup because of the constraints of printing presses.

There were also rumours that Bhat was headed towards Udayavani, the Kannada newspaper published by the Pais of Manipal, but clearly Kannada Prabha‘s reach and reputation—not to mention the deep pockets (and ambitions) of its owner in waiting, phone baron-turned-parliamentarian, Rajeev Chandrasekhar—tilted the balance.

Both Bhat and Chandrasekhar appear to be similarly politically aligned.

Bhat served as an officer on special duty to the former Union minister Ananth Kumar of the BJP, and Chandrasekhar, an independent MP elected with BJP support, has been seen with both Ananth Kumar and the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, on a “Friends of BJP” platform.

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Bhat’s decision to join Kannada Prabha, however, shows that an official Times VPL internal circular, issued in the name of CEO Sunil Rajshekhar that said he was leaving Vijaya Karnataka to pursue “higher studies“, was merely for public consumption.

Kannada Prabha, which currently belongs to The New Indian Express group of Sonthalia, is set to come into the control of Rajeev Chandrasekhar by June this year.

Chandrasekhar had entered into a “strategic partnership alliance” with Express publications in March 2009, and picked up a minority stake. His stake in Kannada Prabha Publications (valued at Rs 250 crore) currently stands at 48%. The grapevine has it that he will obtain a majority controlling stake of 76% by June.

So far, the fight for the Kannada advertising pie has been between Vijaya Karnataka (average issue readership 34.25 lakh readers, IRS round 3) and No.2 Praja Vani (29.10 lakh readers) belonging to the Deccan Herald group. But the Bhat-Chandrasekhar combination at Kannada Prabha (11.15 lakh readers) is likely to muddy the scene.

Vijaya Karnataka is said to be mulling the launch of a Bangalore Mirror-style Kannada tabloid to be issued free with Vijaya Karnataka to blunt the Bhat effect at Kannada Prabha, and also to overcome recent circulation and readership losses to Praja Vani.

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Bhat’s entry into Kannada Prabha is also poised create a ripple in Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s media stable.

Chandrasekhar already has a sizeable media presence in Karnataka through his Suvarna and Suvarna News channels. He had successfully wooed Kannada Prabha editor H.R. Ranganath to the Suvarna News camp at the expense of incumbent Shashidhar Bhat two years ago.

Ranganath came to Suvarna News with his band of print journalists under the belief that Rajeev Chandrasekhar would start his own newspaper. That plan first came unstuck with his purchase of a minority stake in KP.

Now, with the arrival of Vishweshwar Bhat and his own band of print journalists from VK, the former Kannada Prabha journalists in the Suvarna stable are in a dilemma about their future course of action. One of them, Ravi Hegde, is reported to have left Suvarna News and joined Udayavani as editor.

K. Shiva Subramanya, who took over from Ranganath as editor of Kannada Prabha, is reported to have indiciated his decision to leave Kannada Prabha, with the entry of Vishweshwar Bhat, even as Vijaya Karnataka looks around for a full-time Kannada editor.

Whether Bhat will also have a say in Suvarna News or not will be clear in June when both the channel and the newspaper come under a common owner, but it is more likely than not that Bhat will be projected as a face on Suvarna News, both to push Kannada Prabha as a paper and to lend the channel more journalistic gravitas.

The editorial-musical chairs in Bangalore had set the Kannada tabloids and blogs on fire over the last couple of months, with allegations, counter-allegations, innuendos and insinuations, all showing Kannada journalistic egos in very poor light.

Bhat’s resignation also resulted in an ugly war of words with his longtime friend, Ravi Belagere, editor of the popular Hi! Bangalore tabloid. Till recently fought from the shoulders of the former Vijaya Karnataka columnist Pratap Simha, the squabble has increasingly become personal, with Bhat reportedly even sending off a legal notice.

Pratap Simha welcomed Bhat’s decision on his blog thus:

“Our dear editor VISHWESHWAR BHAT has joined “KANNADA PRABHA” just now!! He is the man who gave different dimension to Kannada Journalism, he is the man who captured the imagination of us through his journalistic skills, he is the man who changed the way v all used to think, he is the man who made stars out of writers, he is the man who gave forum to nationalistic views which were unheard until his arrival. I have reason to believe that, his new innings will set new standards and new parameters in Kannada Journalism. Just WATCH OUT…”

Also read: ToI group editor in a flap over honorary doctorate

A blank editorial, a black editorial & a footnote

Is the management responsible for content too?

Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

Prabhu Chawla: A post-dated announcement

23 January 2011

A front-page notice appearing in The New Sunday Express, the Sunday edition of the Madras-based The New Indian Express, on 23 January 2011, announcing the arrival of former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla as the editorial director of the paper.

Chawla, who also hosted the Seedhi Baat show on the Aaj Tak channel, has launched a new show titled Sachchi Baat on the Hyderabad-based ETV owned by Ramoji Rao.

Also read: It’s official: Prabhu Chawla is out of India Today

Should Prabhu Chawla edit The New Indian Express?

Why Aroon Purie ‘elevated’ Prabhu Chawla

Should Prabhu Chawla edit New Indian Express?

14 December 2010

Editors, anchors, columnists, correspondents… tens of media personnel have been badly mauled in the eyes of news consumers, in the Niira Radia scandal.

But do the proprietors and managers really care?

Vir Sanghvi has suspended his weekly column in the Hindustan Times while merrily writing on food. The buck still stops at Barkha Dutt‘s table at 10 pm on NDTV while she fights a lonely battle from the trenches of Twitter.

Now, Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, grandson of the mighty Ramnath Goenka who is in charge of the southern editions of the paper, has reportedly decided to hire former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, as the new editor of  The New Indian Express (TNIE), despite the thick smog of scandal hanging over the latter’s underprotected head.

Chawla, who got a most perplexing certificate of merit from The Hindu‘s editor-in-chief N. Ram, on the India Today-owned TV station Headlines Today, however, has had a slightly inauspicious entry. The outgoing TNIE team of Aditya Sinha has carried this brief excerpt involving Chawla from the second tranche of the Radia tapes.

Listen: Prabhu Chawla in conversation with Niira Radia

Also read: Prabhu Chawla‘s son named in media bribery case

“Accused” Ankur Chawla is now “investigator” Chawla

In the New Indian Express, old hands get the sack

Tomorrow’s news today: spot the difference

26 March 2010

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: The first clear indications of the shape of things to come at Kannada Prabha, the struggling Kannada daily of Manoj Kumar Sonthalia‘s New Indian Express group, have appeared on its imprintline today.

What, till yesterday, used to be an “Express Publications (Madurai) Ltd” publication (left) has overnight become a “Kannada Prabha Publications Limited” publication.

In recent weeks, media circles in Bangalore have been aflame with rumours that the former BPL Mobile scion and Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who now owns the recently revamped 24×7 Kannada news channel Suvarna News, was eyeing Kannada Prabha.

Hiving off Kannada Prabha into a separate company with its own financials was an imperative, if not Sonthalia’s strategy to sell the paper in whole or part, or to attract strategic investments, without the baggage of the New Indian Express, which is also published by the same holding company.

Only yesterday, Kannada Prabha front-paged an opinion poll on the upcoming civic body elections in Bangalore, conducted in collaboration with Suvarna News.

Also read: Rajeev Chandrasekhar eyeing Kannada Prabha?

Indian Express vs The Hindu, N. Ram vs N. Ravi

25 March 2010

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The Indian Express, Delhi, has a front-page “exclusive” on the fracas in the family controlling The Hindu, Madras.

The main points the Express story (also simultaneouly carried in its sister-business daily Financial Express) by media correspondent Archna Shukla makes are:

a) disagreements over the “proposed retirement” of publisher and editor-in-chief N. Ram;

b) the stripping of powers of his brother N. Murali as managing director of the company; and

c) Ram’s recent appointment of family members to the paper allegedly without the board’s consent: his daughter Vidya Ram as the new European correspondent of The Hindu Business Line and Narayan Lakshman as the Hindu’s new Washington correspondent.

N. Ram hit back within hours of the Express story, stating that he would launch “civil and criminal” defamation proceedings against the Express reporter, editor-in-chief, editor and publisher.

“These reports are riddled with demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions, some of them attributed to unnamed sources, made with reckless and malicious disregard for the facts and the truth. And this despite the professional courtesy I extended to the journalist and the newspapers by responding precisely and factually to five specific questions emailed to me on March 24 by Ms Shukla.”

Ram also put out the news of his seeking legal recourse to his 6,562 followers on the micro-blogging site, Twitter.

If rumours of the family rift are true, this is the second round in the battle for control of The Hindu.

N. Ram was at the centre of the first one, too. In the early 1990s, then editor G. Kasturi had made way for Ram’s youngest brother N. Ravi and their cousin Malini Parthasarathy at The Hindu, while Ram was shafted off to edit Frontline and Sportstar.

Ten years later, Ram later teamed up with Kasturi to stage a return.

It now looks like payback time with Kasturi’s son K. Balaji being made managing director of the company at the February 20 board meeting, sharing wideranging responsibilities and supervisory powers over several departments: accounts, production, industrial relations, EDP, purchase of newsprint and other raw materials.

The Express story says Ravi and Malini Parathasarathy have now objected to the manner in which…

“Kasturi’s resources, financial as well as editorial, were used to further the interests of some board members”.

As if to underline the substance of the Express story, N. Ravi revived his Twitter acount after four months to say what he thought of N. Ram’s tweet on (and threat of) the defamation case against Express.

And as if to leave the world in no doubt about who stands where in the undivided Hindu family, Malini Parthasarathy retweeted N. Ravi’s tweet, with her own tweet on Twitter.

Internecine family battles are par for the course in the Indian media. The Deccan Herald group went through it in the mid-1990s, as has the Indian Express reporting The Hindu strife, though both have found ways and means of dividing labour within the family without further bloodshed.

More recently, the Amar Ujala group was also in the middle of a messy family battle, which hit the headlines after some worthies including India Today editor Prabhu Chawla‘s son were caught passing a bribe.

What lends The Hindu vs The Indian Express legal battle an added edge is the abrasive nature of the two people at the helm: Hindu editor-in-chief Ram and Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta. (Ram came in at No. 70 in the Express powerlist published in January this year.)

Secondly, The Indian Express and The Hindu are at opposite ends of the political and ideological spectrum. While the former is a gung-ho supporter of all things America (nuclear deal, GM foods, etc), the latter, under the CPM card-carrying Ram, is decidedly less so.

If the defamation case goes ahead, it will be interesting for more reasons than one.

The resident editor of Express in Delhi (responsible for news selection under the law) is Seema Chishti, wife of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury.

N. Ram and CPM general secretary Prakash Karat have been bosom buddies since their days at Madras Christian Loyola College, where they were together with home minister P. Chidambaram, now ironically seen to be close to Shekhar Gupta.

Meanwhile, as rumours of a fresh board meeting gain ground, clearly the sudden turn of events is causing much mirth in rival publishing houses, too, even if they share the same name as the paper that broke the story.

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of The New Indian Express—the new name given to the southern editions after the Indian Express split following the death of Ramnath Goenka—does his bit to fan the rumour mills through his Twitter account.

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