Posts Tagged ‘Ramoji Rao’

Journalists vs journalist in Bangalore free-for-all

11 April 2012

The page one story in 'Kannada Prabha' on Tuesday, in which a journalist claims to have broken a story before a Bangalore tabloid editor who is claiming credit for it.

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: A veritable dogfight has broken out in Bangalore between a 24×7 Kannada news channel owned by the MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and the owner-editor of a weekly Kannada newspaper.

On the surface, the dispute is over credits for a recently released Kannada film.

But, deep down, the spat has served as a platform for some unabashed shadow-boxing between two leading Kannada journalists that has already seen plenty of bile being spilled on the tabloid editor’s parentage, his sexual exploits and financial dealings, not to mention his journalistic vocabulary and targets.

And everybody from film folk to co-journalists have been happily indulging in a slugfest that has also become a TRP battle between the two leading Kannada news channels.

***

When the Kannada film “Bheema Teeradalli” opened last Friday, Ravi Belagere, the editor of the popular Hi! Bangalore  tabloid popped up on the No.1 Kannada news channel TV9.

He claimed it was he who had unearthed the story of Chandappa Harijan, on whom the film had allegedly been based, but he had neither been consulted by the film makers nor acknowledged in the credits or compensated for it.

All through the TV9 show, the film’s producer, director and actor hemmed and hawwed on where they had suddenly found the inspiration for the film while Belagere, a regular face on Ramoji Rao’s ETV, tore into them.

***

The moment the two-hour TV9 show ended on Saturday, the scene of action shifted to Suvarna News 24×7, Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s news channel whose editor-in-chief is Vishweshwar Bhat and whose friendship with Ravi Belagere has seen better times.

(Belagere used to write a weekly column for Vijaya Karnataka edited by Bhat and Bhat played a guest role in a film produced by Belagere that didn’t quite see the light of day.)

Ravi Belagere (centre), editor of Hi! Bangalore, with Suvarna News and Kannada Prabha editor-in-chief, Vishweshwar Bhat (left), in happier times

***

For months, the two Bangalore journalist-friends turned foes had been at each other throats, more in private than in public. It’s been open season since the film row broke.

On one night on Suvarna News, Pratap Simha, the news editor of Kannada Prabha (a Kannada daily owned by Chandrasekhar and edited by Bhat) and who had been the attacked in a cover story in Belagere’s publication earlier, threw a series of challenges to the tabloid editor.

On another night, the publisher of a competing tabloid pulled out love letters allegedly written by Belagere. A telephone caller, who claimed he was a police inspector, called Belagere “loafer” and “420” on-air.

***

Ravi Belagere again reappeared on TV9 to explain the many photographs and videos he had shot to prove his “intellectual property rights” over the disputed film, but the film’s key men had parked themselves in the Suvarna studios.

In between, Kannada Prabha jumped in to the action.

On page one on Tuesday, it led with the account of another journalist T.K. Malagonda, who claimed he had written about Chandappa Harijan long before Belagere, and that he had provided all the information and photographs to him and that he had not been acknowledged for his effort—the very claim Belagere was making.

On Tuesday night, Suvarna News went one step further. As the two-hour show went on, a crawler ran on TV screens: “If who have been harassed by Ravi Belagere, please dial 080-40977111.”

A long and famous friendship, it seemed, had come to an end.

EPW on the RIL-ETV-TV18 deal-within-a-deal

13 February 2012

In the latest issue of the Economic & Political Weekly, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Subi Chaturvedi weigh in on the nearly forgotten RIL-ETV-TV18 deal, which gives India’s biggest business house control over India’s biggest business news channel, a clutch of news channels, online properties and magazines:

“If international best practices are to be followed, cross-media restrictions should be put in place to prevent large groups from owning stakes across several media, such as print, newspapers, television, radio and the internet. In the US, restrictions place a limit on the market-share available to one entity and that prevents newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership in the same market.

“In France and Canada, a “two out of three” law prevails, whereby companies can only own two of three of the following: terrestrial television services, radio services and daily newspapers. In the UK, the ownership of both newspapers and radio stations, and of both television channels and newspapers in the same area, is prohibited….

“The uniqueness of India’s “mediascape” suggests that while restrictions may be desirable, the safeguards deemed appropriate may not precisely be those that apply in other countries. The TRAI has suggested that a detailed market analysis be conducted by the I&B Ministry in order to ascertain which safeguards would be most appropriate in the Indian context.

“Restrictions on cross-media ownership and control will certainly be resisted staunchly by the big conglomerates in India which own properties across media types and segments. These groups would be vociferous in their criticism of any step to move towards regulation of corporate “groups” or “conglomerates” as opposed to specific “entities” – they would resist such moves tooth and nail.

“Any attempt to impose cross-media restrictions on ownership and control would be dubbed as ‘heavy-handed government censorship’, ‘a return to the bad days of the Emergency’, and a ‘reversion to the infamous licence control raj. The government will invarialy be accused of trying to constrain the media because the media is critical of those in positions of power and authority.

“The argument that since cross-media restrictions exist in advanced capitalist countries with developed media markets, such restrictions should also exist in India, will be countered by claims that since India is a developing country, any restrictions on ownership and control would stifle the media’s growth potential.”

Read the full article: Corporatisation of the media

Also read: Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal

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

ET joins Mint, has questions on RIL-ETV-TV18 deal

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

The sudden rise of media mogul Mukesh Ambani

3 January 2012

Mukesh Ambani (left) went to sleep last night as India’s richest man and woke up this morning as also India’s biggest media mogul. That, in a nutshell, is the sum and substance of the dramatic announcement by Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) that it was getting into a tie-up with Raghav Bahl‘s Network18.

The tie-up means an RIL subsidiary will pump funds into a rights issue by Bahl’s Network18 that is deep in the red. This will help the latter pare down its debts and it will also help it pick up RIL’s stake in the Eenadu Television (ETV) channels owned by southern media strongman, Ramoji Rao.

Although RIL has said the investment will be done by way of an independent trust and that Raghav Bahl and team will have full control, in effect, it means overnight Mukesh Ambani’s direct and indirect shadow will be over at least three English news channels (CNN-IBN, NDTV, NewsX), a top flight business news channel (CNBC TV18), and a clutch of language channels.

With younger brother Anil Ambani too reported to be in the media in ways unseen and unreportable, and with the two warring brothers doing a recent jig together, the RIL-Network 18 tieup raises troubling questions over the hold of India’s biggest corporate house on the media and the potential for the creation of a media duopoly.

Today’s RIL announcement of a tie-up with Network 18 confirms a Business Standard story last month and makes nonsense of a Times of India story the following day that Rajeev Chandrasekhar was picking the ETV channels. The announcement also confirms a Wall Street Journal report which had been vehemently denied by RIL.

The only official previous RIL involvement with the media was when it bought the Sunday Observer and launched the Business and Political Observer in 1991. Both those ventures were soon shut.

Below is the full text of the RIL press release:

***

MUMBAI, 3 January 2012: RIL today announced that a part of the interest owned by it in the ETV Channels is being divested to TV18 Broadcast Limited (TV18). As a part of the deal, Infotel Broad Band Services Limited (“Infotel”), a subsidiary of RIL, has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with TV18 and Network18 Media and Investments Limited (Network18) for preferential access to all their content for distribution through the 4G Broadband Network being set up by it.

As per the Memorandum of Understanding, Infotel shall have preferential access to (i) the content of all the media and web properties of Network 18 and its associates and (ii) programming and digital content of all the broadcasting channels of TV18 and its associates on a first right basis as a most preferred customer.

Infotel is setting up a pan India world class 4th Generation Broadband Network using state of the art technologies. Infotel expects to take a leadership position in content distribution through broadband technology through a host of devices. Digital content from entertainment, news, sports, music, weather, education and other genres will be a key driver to increase consumption of broadband.

RIL, through investments of about Rs.2600 crores, by its group companies, currently holds interest in various ETV Channels being operated and managed by Eenadu Group viz. (i) 100% economic interest in regional news channels, namely ETV Uttar Pradesh, ETV Madhya Pradesh, ETV Rajasthan, ETV Bihar and ETV Urdu channel (“News Channels”) (ii) 100% economic interest in ETV Marathi, ETV Kannada, ETV Bangla, ETV Gujarati and ETV Oriya (“Entertainment Channels”) and (iii) 49% economic interest in ETV Telugu and ETV Telugu News (“Telugu Channels”).

A part of the above investments comprising of 100% interest in News Channels, 50% interest in Entertainment Channels and 24.50% interest in Telugu Channels is being profitably divested to TV18 Broadcast Limited.

Network18 and TV18 have today announced that both the companies are raising funds for the acquisition of ETV Channels through a Rights Issue.

Independent Media Trust (“Trust”), a trust set up for the benefit of Reliance Industries Limited, has agreed to fund the Promoters of Network 18 and TV18 to enable them to subscribe to the proposed Rights Issue announced by both the companies today. The Promoter Companies of Network18 and TV18 and the Trust have entered into a Term Sheet under which the Trust would be subscribing to the Optionally Convertible Debentures to be issued by the Promoter Companies.

Reliance will leverage its deep understanding of the Indian markets – consumer insights, technological expertise, and the ability to build & manage scale – to make this a “win win” partnership. This will create value and be accretive to the shareholders of RIL.

Raghav Bahl and his team will continue to have full operational and management control of both the companies. Raghav Bahl and the current Promoter Entities of Network18 and TV18 will continue to retain control over Network 18 and TV18. RIL reposes full faith in the current leadership and management team of Network18 and TV18.

The investments in these media properties are being made by RIL through an independent trust which will have eminent individuals as Trustees, thus preserving the management, operational and editorial independence of these media companies.

The investment by the Trust in the Promoter Companies of Network18 and TV18, and the arrangement between Network18/TV18 and Infotel for the acquisition and distribution of content on the Infotel platform, is one of many such partnership initiatives being undertaken by Infotel.

The combination of India’s leading TV content provider, with a bouquet of nearly 25 channels, and Infotel, will be a significant step in bringing a high quality “live TV” experience to broadband customers across the country. Likewise, Network18’s market-leading web portals and e-commerce operations will provide several value added services to Infotel’s broadband subscribers. This unique alliance is expected to differentiate Infotel and create value for all stakeholders.

External reading: The column The Hindu didn’t publish

Medianama on the RIL-Network 18 deal

***

Also read: Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Rajeev Chandrasekhar picking up Eenadu TV?

15 December 2011

For a paper which turns its nose at news about the rest of the media, The Times of India has a strange item on its business page, news of the mobile phone entrepreneur turned member of Parliament, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, evincing some interest in Ramoji Rao‘s Eenadu television chain in Andhra Pradesh.

The ToI report comes a day after a Business Standard report that Network 18 was in the midst of merger talks with Eenadu. There has been plenty of market buzz that Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Industries has been more than interested in Eenadu through its subsidiaries and friends like Nimesh Kampani.

For the record, Chandrasekhar already owns news properties in print and television in Malayalam (Asianet News) and Kannada (Suvarna News, Kannada Prabha).

Also read: Kannada Prabha is now Rajeev Chandrasekhar‘s

Rajeev Chandrasekhar buying a Malayalam daily?

Rajeev Chandrasekhar eyeing Deccan Herald?

‘Media standards not keeping pace with growth’

18 April 2011

Sanjaya Baru, editor of Business Standard and former media advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh, delivered the second H.Y. Sharada Prasad memorial lecture on media, business and government at the India International Centre on Sunday, 17 April. This is the full text of his address:

***

By SANJAYA BARU

I first met H.Y. Sharada Prasad in 1982 in the very room in which I later sat in the Prime Minister’s Office. He knew me only as Rama’s husband!  I was in Delhi on a visit from Hyderabad where I was a University lecturer and went to call on him because Rama had asked me to.

I would meet him occasionally during my days at the Economic Times and Times of India and tried hard to get him to write for the editorial page of the TOI, when I was in charge of it in 1994-96. He always declined the invitation with a smile. Finally, when he chose to write a column I had already left TOI and it was M.J. Akbar who managed to get him to do so for The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle.

Perhaps as a consolation he called me one day and told me that he had informed Encyclopedia Britannica that he would stop writing the chapter on India that he had written every year for close to fifty years, and henceforth they should approach me for the chapter.

I was flabbergasted, flattered and honoured.

The editor of Britannica wrote me a warm letter saying that I must be someone very special because after a “life long” association with EB, “Mr Prasad has chosen you to inherit his annual contribution to the Britannica.” I have written that chapter since, every year.”

On 2 June 2004 I joined the PMO in the morning and called on “Shouri mama” (as Sharada Prasad was called by his friends and family) the same evening to seek his blessings and take his advice. He spoke to me at length about the office itself, and the significance of every nook and corner.

“You are sitting in the same room in which Jawaharlal Nehru first sat as Prime Minister,” he told me, referring to the corner room next to the cabinet room. Nehru had to wait for a month to move into what is now the PM’s room, since that room’s earlier occupant, Girija Shankar Bajpai, would not vacate it till the room assigned to him was ready, that being the present principal secretary’s room.

I too had occupied that very room briefly till I moved into the much larger adjacent room, the one Shouri had occupied with great distinction for almost two decades. After letting me know that I was sitting in Nehru’s first room in the PMO, he added with a mischievous smile, “of course Natwar (Singh) also sat there!”

He regaled me with stories about the various occupants of the PMO during his decade and a half there, about their egos and their foibles. He gave me valuable advice on how I should discharge my duties both as media advisor and speech writer that stood me in good stead throughout my four-and-a-half years in the job.

On a couple of occasions when I had difficulty convincing the PM and his senior aides about my media strategy in dealing with an issue, I would called Shouri and having received his endorsement of my plan inform the PM that Mr Sharada Prasad has approved my idea. The PM would instantly fall in line and allow me to go ahead, over ruling the dissenters. Securing Shourie’s imprimatur was enough.

For a man who wielded a powerful and elegant pen for the Prime Minister of India, who had the unquestioned trust and confidence of a powerful Prime Minister like Indira Gandhi, who had travelled around the world with her, hearing her read out his prose, whom generations of Indians had seen in Films Division documentaries and front page photographs sitting next to Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, here I was with him on my first day in the PMO in his two-room, Punjabi Bagh DDA flat.

Every day of my four-and-a-half years in the PMO, I would recall that first evening that I spent with Shouri.

Don’t fool yourself, I would tell myself, you may be here today, but one day you too will have a modest apartment to retire to. Shouri was among the very few who worked with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi who had no Vasant Vihar or New friends Colony or Maharani Bagh house to leave for his children. It is the combination of his wisdom and simplicity, his prose and wit, his deep knowledge of both India and the world that makes him a truly unique occupant of that all powerful corner of Raisina Hill. This memorial lecture is dedicated as much to Shourie as to the values he embodied.

***

One of the things that Shouri said to me when I met him the evening of my first day at the PMO was that during his long tenure at the PMO he kept in regular, almost daily contact, with key interlocutors in just five newspapers – Hindustan Times, Indian Express, The Statesman, The Hindu and Times of India. That was a different world.

While India reported less than 500 newspapers in the years Shouri first came to deal with them, and only one television channel, by 1991 there were 923 newspapers and still only one TV channel. But Shouri regarded dealing with just the top five English dailies adequate to influence the rest of the media. These five, he presumably believed, set the tone and the agenda for all others to follow. It is also possible he believed having these five on one’s side is what mattered as far as the PM was concerned.

In 2008, the year I left PMO, the Registrar of Newspapers reported that 2,337 newspapers were in circulation in India. In 2004 there were already several news TV channels, but by 2008 the number had more than tripled. By the time I left my position in mid-2008 I would normally be dealing with at least a couple of dozen newspapers and TV channels every day.  The era when one could happily say that the PM’s media advisor kept in touch with just five top English newspapers was long gone. Not only had Indian language TV and print become more important, but even English language TV and print had burgeoned and the internet had arrived.

It was during my last days in office that I acquired a Facebook account and Outlook magazine put me on their cover, along with some celebrities, for being the first PMO official with a Facebook account. Twitter had not arrived by the time I left office. Today Shouri would not be able to recognise, much less relate, to the media scene in India. My 84-year-old parents take pride in letting me know that they neither watch TV news, nor spend more than a few minutes reading a newspaper. They have opted out of daily news.

But, the rest of India has not. Nowhere has there been a bigger boom in media than in India.

At the last World Association of Newspapers convention in Hyderabad in 2009, India was hailed as the great global hope for media, especially print. The WAN invitation to the Hyderabad convention said:

“Developing literacy and wealth are part of but far from all the story: Great credit needs also to be given to Indian newspaper professionals, who are re-inventing the newspaper to keep it vibrant and compelling in the digital age……. Although broadband and mobile are booming in India, print newspapers are growing right along with them. The country has more daily newspapers than any other nation and leads in paid-for daily circulation, surpassing China for the first time in 2008. Twenty of the world’s 100 largest newspapers are Indian. Newspaper circulation rose a further 8 percent last year.”

Salivating at the India numbers, News Corp top executive James Murdoch told a FICCI–Frames conference in Mumbai last month that “India’s media industry is a ‘sleeping tiger’  waiting to be awakened.” He described global media firms as “grey and tired”. “The impressive achievements of the last two decades have not even begun to fulfill the potential of this great land,” said the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

This boom is witnessed in every language, with Hindi’s Dainik Jagran emerging as the great success story in print media. But with growth have come its wages. The quantitative expansion of Indian media continues to outpace its qualitative development. Extreme inequality in compensation structures means there are some journalists who get world class compensation that would be the envy of even developed economy media, and there is a mass of under-paid staff, many of whom with low skills and lower motivation.

Speaking at the Silver Jubilee of the Chandigarh Press Club in September 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said:

“With the rapid growth of media in recent times, qualitative development has not kept step with quantitative growth. In the race for capturing markets, journalists have been encouraged to cut corners, to take chances, to hit and run. I believe the time has come for journalists to take stock of how competition has impacted upon quality. Consider the fact that even one mistake, and a resultant accident, can debar an airline pilot from ever pursuing his career. Consider the case that one wrong operation leading to a life lost, and a doctor can no longer inspire the confidence of his patients. One night of sleeping on the job at a railway crossing, an avoidable train accident, and a railway man gets suspended. How many mistakes must a journalist make, how many wrong stories, and how many motivated columns before professional clamps are placed? How do the financial media deal with market moving stories that have no basis in fact? Investors gain and lose, markets rise and fall, but what happens to those reporters, analysts, editors who move and make markets? Are there professional codes of conduct that address these challenges? Is the Press Council the right organization to address these challenges? Can professional organizations of journalists play a role?”

Apart from the problem of quantitative growth outpacing qualitative development, there is also the challenge of conflicting objectives and a clash of cultures. News media has become subsumed into the larger business of information and entertainment. This is in large part a consequence of the growing dependence of media, especially news media, on advertisement revenues, though India still has a substantial segment of the market that is still willing to pay for news.

One of the consequences of this growing dependence on advertising revenues, as opposed to subscription revenue, and the competition from competing media is that news media has become increasingly a mish-mash of news, views and plain entertainment.

A recent  FICCI- KPMG report, Hitting the High Notes on the Indian media and Entertainment Industry in 2011 not only unabashedly refers to ‘media and entertainment’ as one industry, but also points to the growing inter-linkages between the two sides of business. News is entertainment and entertainment is news! And, the stakes are high.

According to KPMG, the Indian Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry stood at US$ 12.9 billion in 2009. Over the next five years the industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13 per cent to reach the size of US$ 24.04 billion by 2014.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report titled ‘Indian Entertainment & Media Outlook 2010’ predicts that the industry is poised to return to double digit growth to touch US$ 22.28 billion growing cumulatively at a 12.4 per cent CAGR to 2014.

Apart from the phenomenal growth prospects, which have become the envy of media companies around the world, and therefore attracting many of them to India, it is important to also note that there has been a vertical and horizontal integration, along the technological spectrum, of news, entertainment and communication. Print, TV, radio, film, music, gaming, mobile telephony, internet and banking and finance are all getting integrated. New technologies will integrate the businesses and the markets even more.

The KPMG report adds, “While television and print continue to dominate the Indian M&E industry, sectors such as gaming, digital advertising, and animation VFX also show tremendous potential in the coming years. By 2015, television is expected to account for almost half of the Indian M&E industry revenues, and more than twice the size of print, the second largest media sector.  The contribution of advertising revenue to overall industry pie is expected to increase from 38 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2012.”

When news and entertainment become two sides of the same coin, indeed some would say the same side of one coin, with advertising revenue being the other side of the coin, and when the distinction between news and views gets blurred, journalism enters an uncharted territory where there are as yet no professional yardsticks to judge either purpose or performance. But it is not just the integration of businesses that is having an impact on media. It is the integration of business with politics and politics with business that is now shaping news media, and not just at the national level.

*** Read the rest of this entry »

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

‘Hindu and HT were worst offenders in 1975′

29 June 2010

With  nearly 60% of India reputedly being under 25 years of age—in other words, with three out of five Indians having been born after 1985—it stands to reason that the 35th anniversary of the declaration of Emergency by the Indira Gandhi government should have come and gone without creating a ripple.

That, and the fact that the news channels and newspapers were too busy celebrating panchamda R.D. Burman‘s birthday and the World Cup to be bothered of the more serious things affecting life and democracy.

Nevertheless, the press censorship during the Emergency is one of the darkest periods in contemporary Indian media history, when promoters, proprietors, editors and journalists quietly acquiesced to the firman of the government to not publish anything that was considered antithetical to the national interest.

Censors sat over editors in newspaper offices and crossed out material (including cartoons and pictures) that didn’t conform to the official policy; criticism of the government was a strict no-no; over 250 journalists were arrested; 51 foreign correspondents were dis-accreditated, 29 were denied entry, seven were expelled.

In The Sunday Guardian, the weekly newspaper launched by M.J. Akbar, the veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recounts life under censorship, names the pussies and lions, and says the media today is “too niminy-piminy, too nice, too refined” if such a disaster were to strike again.

***

By KULDIP NAYAR

L.K. Advani was right when he told journalists, “You were asked to bend, but you crawled.” Even then, the courageous part was that nearly 100 journalists assembled at Delhi’s press club on 28 June 1975 and passed a resolution to condemn press censorship. But subsequently, fear took over and they caved in.

They were afraid to speak even in private.

The press council of India (PCI), the highest body to protect press freedom, became a part of the establishment. The then chairman, Justice Iyengar, stalled a resolution to criticise press censorship by local members of the PCI. Justice Iyengar informed the information minister V.C. Shukla about his achievement in not letting the resolution of condemnation passed.

Except for the Indian Express, the leading light during the Emergency, practically all papers preferred to side with the government.

The two of the worst were The Hindu and the Hindustan Times.

Hindu’s editor G. Kasturi became a part of the establishment. He headed Samachar, the news agency that was formed after the merger of PTI, UNI and Hindustan Samachar. He obeyed the government diktat on how to purvey a particular story or suppress it. He could not withstand government pressure.

The Hindustan Times, owned by the Birlas, was always with the Congress. K.K. Birla, then its chairman, took over as chairman of the Indian Express and changed its editor by replacing incumbent S. Mulgaonkar with V.K. Narasimhan, who proved to be a tough nut to crack. Birla was the complete opposite of Ramnath Goenka, the owner of the Indian Express. Goenka fought the government tooth and nail and staked all that he had built in his life….

The Times of India was edited by Sham Lal, who had impeccable credentials. Girilal Jain, the resident editor in Delhi, too stood by the principle of free press. Both were pro-Indira Gandhi but against press censorhip. However they felt handicapped because the management wanted to play it safe. Not that Shantilal Jain, who owned the paper, was in any way pro-Emergency, but he had burnt his fingers when the paper was taken over by the government at the instance of T.T. Krishnamachari, then the finance minister, who doubted the paper on certain matters.

Leading regional papers were against the Emergency but did not want to face government wrath. Eenadu, under Ramoji Rao, refused to toe the government line but stayed within the contours of the Emergency to avoid trouble.

Ananda Bazaar Patrika owner Ashoke Sarkar was a man of courage and gave his blessings to his principal correspondent Barun Sengupta’s fight against the emergency. The paper, however, managed to escape the wrath of the then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who was the author of the Emergency.

My friend K.M. Mathew, the owner of the vast empire of Malayala Manorama, stood his ground and despite the pressures on him showed where his sympathies lay when he invited to open a photo exhibition at Kottayam after my release from jail. The country was still in the middle of the Emergency. Yet, Mathew showed his annoyance in his own way.”

Text: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

On the eve of the 33rd anniversary of Emergency

25 June 2008

The dictionary defines “atrocity” as “the quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane”. If that is an acceptable definition, what constitutes an “atrocity” against the scheduled castes and tribes?

Is a Lok Ayukta raid against a corrupt SC/ST official an “atrocity” against dalits? Is sacking or suspending an incompetent SC/ST employee an “atrocity” against dalits? Is questioning, criticising , shouting slogans against, or burning an effigy of an SC/ST public figure an “atrocity” against dalits?

Can the media dispassionately write about or comment on individuals and institutions of the scheduled castes and tribes, as they should any other community, without attracting the charge of “harassment”?

In other words, are dalits above the laws of the land? Or are the scheduled castes and tribes taking advantage of the special status that the Constitution of India confers on them?

The answers are blindingly obvious to most, but to the Congress government of Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, they are not so. Last night, AP police swooped down on the offices of the Telugu daily, Andhra Jyothy, and arrested its editor (K. Srinivas) and two journalists (N. Vamsi Krishna and N. Srinivas) under section 3 (1) (x) of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act.

Section 3 (1) (x) reads:

“Whoever, not being a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe… intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a scheduled caste or tribe in any place within public view.”

Their crime?

The Maadiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) president Manda Krishna Madiga had lodged a complaint with the police on 28 May 2008 that the staff of the newspaper had abused him by his caste when they had taken out a protest march the previous day. According to one report, Krishna Madiga “showed the photos where the editor and others were present when the agitators were beating his effigy with chappals”.

The reason Andhra Jyothy staff had taken out the protest march?

Activists of the MRPS had attacked the offices of Andhra Jyothy in Hyderabad, Warangal and Vishakapatnam on 27 May 2008 and vandalised them in protest against an article it had published on 26 May 2008. Two cars were also damaged.

Without naming any Dalit leader in particular, the article in question referred to “hired leaders” and “saleable commodities” who  were only pandering to their interests rather than working for the interests of their community.

MRPS leaders claimed Andhra Jyothy had published the news item “with the specific intent of tarnishing the image of leaders who were crusading for the uplift of the weaker sections for decades”.

Almost a month later, on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of the Emergency, the police came knocking and took away the editor and the two contributors. The charge against the reporters was that they had burnt the effigy of Krishna Madiga and slapped it with chappals during the rally on 27 May 2008.

A police officer is quoted as saying, prima facie, there is “clinching evidence” against all three.

The arrest of the Andhra Jyothy staff comes in the middle of a surcharged media atmosphere in the Congress-ruled State, and the journalists’ bodies are smelling more than a rat.

Ramoji Rao, the proprietor of the State’s largest daily Eenadu, has been the subject of a sustained legal and financial scrutiny. The chief minister’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, has just launched a multi-edition, all-colour newspaper called Saakshi to take on Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi. And the film star Chiranjeevi, whom Andhra Jyothy is seemingly backing, is slated to announce the launch of a political party soon.

Photograph: Andhra Jyothy editor K. Srinivas being taken away in a police jeep upon his arrest (courtesy Andhra Jyothy )

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom

Cross-posted on churumuri

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