Posts Tagged ‘Rahul Joshi’

In its golden jubilee year, ET gets a new design

18 February 2011

Quietly, almost as if it doesn’t want anybody to notice, India’s oldest and largest business paper,The Economic Times, has undergone a redesign. On top is the front page of the launch issue of the paper in its new avatar (Monday, 14 February 2011) and below is the paper from exactly a week before.

The pagination of the paper from The Times of India stable, which turns 50 this year, remains more or less the same. There are no new pages or sections. In other words, old wine in slick new bottle is enough to ward off the design challenge posed by the Hindustan Times‘ business paper, Mint.

The key changes are in the colour of the masthead from blue to black; new headline fonts; a tighter body font taking it closer towards the body font of ToI; and plenty of icons and logos, even in headlines. Keen observers of design will notice subtle shades of inspiration from designs of The Guardian, The Observer and International Herald Tribune.

The top-secret redesign, which has been subtly introduced sans announcement, has reportedly been executed by Itu Chaudhuri Associates, which designed the original template for Open magazine and was behind some of India’s best book covers in the late 1990s, including Arundhati Roy‘s Booker Prize winning God of Small of Things.

Images: courtesy The Economic Times

Also read: Good heavens, another Mario Garcia redesign

Yet another paper redesigned by Mario Garcia

How come Mario Garcia didn’t redesign this one?

Finally, a redesign not done by Mario Garcia

Less is better for the new, redesigned rediff.com

Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

24 April 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo montage: courtesy DNA

Also read: Business journalism or the journalism of business?

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

Supreme Court notice toCNBC-TV18 analyst

Sushma Ramachandran: Corruption in business journalism

Sucheta Dalal in public row on private treaties

29 June 2008

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

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

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

Now, ToI has hit back, below the belt.

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

Sivakumar’s response:

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

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

In response, she writes back:

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

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

9 January 2008

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

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

It’s a win-win but guess who loses?

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

***

By SUCHETA DALAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PT’s vision is stated as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph: courtesy suchetadalal.com

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Crossposted on churumuri.com

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