Posts Tagged ‘Reliance Industries’

Steve Forbes named in Forbes India legal notice

28 June 2013
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Top row: Indrajit Gupta (L), Dinesh Krishnan
Bottom row: Shishir Prasad (L), Charles Assisi

Three of the four Forbes India editors, who were forced out of the fortnightly business magazine allegedly for demanding that the promoters fulfill their contractual commitments on employee stock options (ESOPs), have shot off legal notices to Network 18 and Forbes Media, demanding immediate reinstatement and settlement of dues and damages for loss of livelihood, reputation and mental harassment.

Steve Forbes, the chairman and CEO of Forbes Media, and William Adamopoulos, CEO Asia of Forbes Media, have been named among the eight respondents, since Forbes India is a title licensed by the American parent organisation, Forbes.

The others named in the legal notice are Network 18 chief operating officer Ajay Chacko, editor-in-chief web and publishing R. Jagannathan, group HR director Shampa Kochhar, group general counsel Kshipra Jatana, and group CEO B. Sai Kumar.

Interestingly, neither Raghav Bahl, the controlling shareholder and managing director of Network 18, nor Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani, whose name was drawn into the controversy by the Bombay Press Club, have been named in the June 18 legal notice.

(Update: The managing director of Digital 18 Media is the chief recipient of the legal notice, which at this current time happens to be Raghav Bahl.)

The “termination” of services of Forbes India editor Indrajit Gupta, the “resignation” of managing editor Charles Assisi, director photography Dinesh Krishnan, and executive editor Shishir Prasad, was slammed by the Editors Guild of India as a move that cuts at the “very root of editorial independence”.

While the first three have sent the legal notices, the fourth has chosen not to contest the case.

The notices are seen as the first step before a full-blown court case which would test human resource practices at one of India’s largest media organisations.

The silence of the Press Council of India, created to preserve the freedom of the press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in the country, has been defeaning, given the demonstrated propensity of its chairman Justice Markandey Katju to intervene in public debates.

Also read: How the Forbes India editors were forced out

Bombay Press Club blasts Forbes India purge

Forbes purge is a freedom issue: Editors’ Guild

External reading: Forbes will stick to its DNA: R. Jagannathan

‘Network 18’s multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

13 April 2013

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As news channels bend backwards to give flight to Narendra Modi‘s prime ministerial ambitions, the Indian Express television critic, Pratik Kanjilal, writes on the Mukesh Ambani-controlled Network 18‘s unquestioning schmoozefest with the Gujarat chief minister:

“Modi also addressed a business forum in Kolkata, but the big one was the multimedia love-feast organised by Network 18.

“TV, blow by blow Web updates, social media, the works, with Modi hosted by Sanjay Pugalia, one of the first television journalists, and the discussion led by media entrepreneur Raghav Bahl.

“With no trace of journalistic scepticism, this was a promo. The guest was so much at ease that he asked after Sagarika Ghose and Rajdeep Sardesai. It’s sobering to recall that Sardesai had done excellent street-to-street reporting on the Gujarat violence of 2002.”

Read the full column: Twitter alert

Also read: ‘For cash-stuck TV, Modi fetches TRPs’

Mukesh Ambani ‘sues’ TV channels on Kejriwal

10 January 2013

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SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s most powerful business house, Reliance Industries, are believed to have served a legal notice on several TV news channels for airing anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal‘s allegations against them in October and November last year.

However, it is not known if Kejriwal, a former IRS officer, and his advocate-partner, Prashant Bhushan, have heard from RIL’s lawyers on the charges made by them at the  press conferences which were covered “live” by the TV channels with accompanying commentary.

It is also unclear if  newspapers which reported Kejriwal’s allegations of Ambani’s Swiss bank accounts and hanky-panky in the Krishna-Godavari basin by RIL have attracted similar legal attention from the less-litigious of the two Ambani brothers.

In the seven-page legal notice shot off in the middle of December 2012, Mukesh Ambani and RIL have demanded “a retraction and an unconditional apology in the form approved and acceptable to our clients” within three days from the receipt of the notice.

The notices have been served by the Bombay legal firm, A.S. Dayal & Associates.

***

Besides accusing the channels of “deliberately and recklessly” airing “false and defamatory statements” with an intent to “defame our clients and bring them into disrepute”, the legal notice makes the following points:

# “Your TV Channel provided a platform and instrumentality for wide dissemination of the false and defamatory statements and allegations made at the said press conference.”

# “Live telecast of these press conferences amounts to permanent publication of defamatory material relating to our client by you.”

# “Each of the two press conferences were telecast live without making any attempt to verify the truth or veracity of the statements and allegations being made during the press conference.”

# “Apart from having telecast the press conferences live, Your TV Channel  in the course of several television programmes and televised debates that followed after the said press conferences, continued to telecast, transmit and retransmit the defamatory footage of the press conferences.”

***

More ominously, the Ambani-RIL notice reminds the channels:

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that Your TV Channel is bound by the Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking from India dated 5th December 2011, issued by the ministry of information & broadcasting, government of India.

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that since Your TV Channel is a news and current affairs TV Channel, the provisions of the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines apply to Your TV Channel, which inter alia provide that a Company, like Your TV Channel, which runs a news and current affairs TV channel, is obliged to comply with the Programme Code as laid down in the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act, 1995, and the Rules framed thereunder.

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that in telecasting the aforesaid press conferences and repeating the false and defamatory material relating to our clients in the manner aforesaid Your TV Channel is in complete violation of the said Uplinking Guidelines, and the said Downlinking Guidelines as also in complete and material breach of the Programme Code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules.”

***

The RIL legal notice brings to question the wisdom of broadcasting “live” Kejriwal’s near-weekly press conferences towards the end of last year, sans any filters or fetters.

On the other hand, the authoritarian tone of the legal notice—reminding the recipients of uplinking and downlinking norms—throws light on the egg-shells on which private TV stations are walking in the “free” Republic.

The legal notice also swings the spotlight on big business ownership of and shadow over the media, especially when it is alleged to have both the main political parties, the Congress and BJP, in its pocket.

For the record, RIL is in the media business too. Both CNN-IBN and IBN7 are part of the Reliance stable following a controversial and circuitous takeover at the turn of 2012 that now has earned the OK of the competition commission of India (CCI).

***

Photograph: courtesy IBN Live

***

Also read: ‘RIL has no direct stake in media companies’

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

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

HT wedding unites Ambanis and Birlas

31 December 2012

News of a wedding that brings India’s most powerful corporate, Reliance Industries, closer to India’s second largest English newspaper, Hindustan Times, which is headed by the Congress member of Parliament Shobhana Bhartia.

From Mail Today, the tabloid newspaper from the India Today group:

Mukesh Ambani‘s home Antilia has seen a number of parties in the last few months like the one thrown to celebrate Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 100 international centuries.

The next one promises to be the mother of all bashes.

Mukesh and Anil Ambani‘s sister, Nina Kothari‘s daughter Nayantara will be tying the knot with K.K. Birla‘s grandson Shamit Bhartia.

Shamit is the son of Hindustan Times boss Shobhana Bhartia and her businessman-husband Shyam Bhartia of Jubilant.

While the wedding is in Chennai, Mukesh and his wife Nita are throwing a lavish dinner at Antilia on January 5. This will be the first wedding of the late Dhirubhai Ambani‘s grandchildren. Secondly, all of Dhirubhai and Kokilaben’s children would be seen together after a long time.

For the record, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries (RIL) owns a large chunk of TV18 group, which has control over the ETV network of channels, through a controversial deal that later won the approval of the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

ET joins Mint, has questions on RIL-TV18 deal

20 January 2012

Two days after Mint front-paged a story that SEBI was looking into the Reliance-Network18/TV18-ETV deal, the country’s biggest business newspaper, The Economic Times has joined force.

A story on page 9 of ET, headlined “Will the RIL-TV18 deal trigger takeover code?“, says SEBI “may ask for details” about  Reliance funding Network18/TV18 to help it purchase RIL’s stake in ETV, “if there’s any change in control” [of ownership of Network18/TV18].

“The deal between Reliance Industries and Network18 Group has put the spotlight on the elusive concept of control as some analysts speculate whether the energy-to-education conglomerate’s investment in the media firm could potentially place RIL in effective charge of the Raghav Bahl controlled entity.”

On paper, Reliance will route its investment in Network18 through “Independent Media Trust”. The trust will subscribe to the optionally convertible debentures (OCDs) issued by the holding company of the Network18 group. This money will then be used by the promoters of Network18/TV18 to invest in the rights issues of its two listed companies, purchase RIL’s stake in ETV and repay debts.

The catch is, Reliance can convert its OCDs into equity as some later stage.

ET quotes a Morgan Stanley report of January 6 that the country’s biggest business house may ultimately end up as the single largest shareholder of Network18 Group’s two listed entities.

“Assuming the debentures are converted and that RIL will be the ultimate beneficiary of the promoter’s part of the rights issues, the RIL trust would be the beneficiary of 44% stake in Network18 and 28.5% stake in TV18,” the Morgan Stanley report said.

***

The latest issue of Outlook Business too has a story on the RIL-TV18-ETV deal.

Headlined “Networking a way out”, the intro to the piece reads “The absurd valuation that Network18 is paying for buying a piece in Eenadu defies economic rationale.”

The piece quotes Star India CEO Peter Mukherjea, who calls the deal a marriage of convenience between an ugly bride and a physically challenged groom.

“One was deep in debt and needed to get cash into the business quickly, and the other was sitting on an asset they purchased some years ago but were not able to monetise. Structuring the deal this way provides an escape hatch for both. I guess they both will live happily ever after—or will they?”

Infographic: courtesy The Economic Times

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

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

Why hasn’t India thrown up a media mogul?

30 December 2011

Indian media houses, promoters and practitioners are gung-ho about foreign direct investment (FDI) in all sectors except the media, under the specious argument that the media is not a “commodity”, etc.

Media barons who justify the worst excesses of modern Indian media under the this-is-what-the-consumer-wants logic, somehow find it convenient to block FDI in media although this is also what the consumer might want.

Raghav Bahl, the founder of the heavily bleeding TV18 network (and reported to be considering a dalliance with Reliance Industries’s Mukesh Ambani), gives the protectionist argument some more air in a supplement brought out by the Indian Express, to explain why India hasn’t thrown up a media mogul:

“In India, thanks to the liberal FDI policies and the high proportion of English language speakers, a Google will come and set up base and then use this to gradually move into local Indian languages. In China, however, a Google can’t enter and you need a Baidu. So a Baidu will get market cap in China, while in India it will be Google or Facebook.

“The inroads global media firms have made in India is good from its citizen’s point of view but when it comes to creating value and scale for a local media firm, this is not good news…

“The largest Indian media firm Zee TV has a market cap of $2.5 billion—thats puny by global standards. Few Indian media firms can, for instance, buy a Newsweek but a Baidu can easily do this. Can I compete with a Google or Facebook? The only other company (other than Zee) to get scale of that sort is Network 18. UTV sold out and no newspaper has really created meaningful scale, But we have a market cap of just $300-400 million even after being the biggest to scale up and we have a very levereaged balance sheet because of this,…

“The short point is that India’s advantages for a thriving media industry will be disadvantageous for the Indian who dreams to become the next media mogul. For such an aspiration, countries with closed media markets, such as China, offer an advantage since this allows local firms to build up the capital base that is essential to becoming a serious player in the technology space, so vital to being a global media firm.”

External reading: Network 18: mega hotch-potch of companies

Also read: What the prime minister told Raghav Bahl

‘If we don’t get it first, why should we want it?’

What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

Business journalism or business of journalism?

The endgame is near for TV18 and NDTV

Is this man the new media mogul of India?

The Indian Express, Reliance and Shekhar Gupta

7 June 2011

The shadow of Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Industries (RIL) has hung heavily over the northern editions of the Indian Express for the last seven years, in a marked departure from the late 1980s when Ramnath Goenka‘s paper was seen as Dhirubhai Ambani‘s chief  bully and bugbear.

Tongues have wagged incessantly about how well paid Express staffers are given its insignificant circulation and non-existent advertising; about the kind of foreign tieups it stitches up (The Economist one day, Financial Times the other); about the about-turn the paper’s former editor Arun Shourie made as NDA minister; about how comfortable the paper’s current editor Shekhar Gupta looks wth the Reliance gang, and so on.

The bazaar gossip—does Mukesh Ambani have a stake in the Express?—barely evokes any surprise.

In an interview with Shuchi Bansal of Mint, Shekhar Gupta catches the bull by the horns:

“What is there to explain? The shareholding statement is published every year in the paper. Express Holdings and Enterprises Ltd, the holding company, is 100% owned by Viveck Goenka. Then there is Viveck Goenka himself and a small bit of shareholding is with me. The shareholding of every company is listed by every company with the ministry of corporate affairs.

“I am surprised this question gets asked.

“I have handled the management for this company for a long time. This company has gone through due diligence by the finest team of experts in the business. There is no question ever, ever of any corporate whether its name begins with R or T or B or XYZ owning a single share.

“Funding cannot happen under the table. The issue is that the fight between Reliance and Express was vicious that films are being made on it now.

“What is our challenge as editors? We cover Reliance as any other corporate. Sometimes difficult calls have been taken because Express has a campaigning mindset. The solution is to do straightforward classical journalism.

“We are instruments for nobody.”

Read the interview: No question ever of any company owning even a single share in IE

***

Also read: Is the Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

Have the Tatas blacklisted the Times of India again?

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Larry Summers, YSR, the Ambanis & Mark Ames

11 January 2010

Mark Ames, the expat American editor of eXiled (“Mankind’s only alternative since 1997″), whose blog speculation on an Ambani hand in the helicopter crash that killed Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy caused rioters to attack Reliance properties in that State last wek, is baffled by the “class war” that has broken out in India.

“This has to be the single weirdest episode in my journalism career–and that’s saying a lot, considering all the strange and scary shit I’ve been through over the past decade-plus. I caused a mass riot in India, leaving 185 people arrested so far, and about 100 business owned by Larry Summers’ oligarch-friends smoldering in ruins.

“The class war is on–but not in the supposedly free-spirited United States of America, where you can rape Americans of everything they’re worth and never worry about so much as a broken window… instead my article sparked an uprising on the other side of the globe. Go figure.”

Ames’ article, published on 3 September 2009, was carried by the Telugu channel TV5, leading to attacks on malls, hypertores, petrol pumps and other property owned by Mukesh Ambani across Andhra Pradesh. Reliance Industries denied any role and threatened legal recourse. The Andhra government arrested the editors of the TV station, sparking protests by journalists.

Read the full article: Exiled site under attack

Read the original article: Larry Summers‘ ex-boss dies in crash

Larry Summers‘ ex-boss: a bilionaire with a blood feud

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

Sorry, brother, we got a few million $$$ wrong

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

16 February 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Arun Shourie is one of the strangest cases on the Indian intellectual landscape if not its most disappointing. A living, walking, moving advertisement of how rabid ideology can addle even the most riveting of minds, stripping it of all its nuance and pretence; its very soul and humanity.

***

Once a fiery critic of Reliance Industries as editor of the Indian Express, he was happy to deliver a eulogy at Dhirubhai Ambani‘s first death anniversary; even changing the law as minister to benefit Reliance Industries, as alleged by the son of Girilal Jain, the former Times of India editor who held shares in the company, no less.

Once a symbol of middle-class integrity and probity for various scams unearthed his watch, his stint as disinvestment minister was pockmarked with allegation after allegation (although an unattributed Wikipedia entry claims he was ranked “the most outstanding minister of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government” by 100 CEOs).

A slow, scholarly, Chaplinesque demeanour hides a cold, clinical mind that piles the rhetoric and the stereotypes on the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised while taking up high faluting positions on terrorism, governance, internal security and such like, through long, meandering essays whose opacity could put cub journalists to shame.

And, as always, selectively twisting and turning the facts to fit his preconceived conclusion, and hoping no one will notice.

To paraphrase Ramachandra Guha, Shourie has become the Arundhati Roy of the right:

“The super-patriot and the anti-patriot use much the same methods. Both think exclusively in black and white. Both choose to use a 100 words when 10 will do. Both arrogate to themselves the right to hand out moral certificates. Those who criticise Shourie are characterised as anti-national, those who dare take on Roy are made out to be agents of the State. In either case, an excess of emotion and indignation drowns out the facts.”

But what should disappoint even his most ardent fans, and there are many young journalists, is how easily and effortlessly a pacifist penman has regressed from “a concerned citizen employing his pen as an effective adversary of corruption, inequality and injustice” (as his Magsaysay Award citation read) to a hate-spewing ideological warrior with fire blazing through his nostrils.

A son of a Gandhian who now openly advocates “two eyes for an eye and a whole jaw for one tooth” with barely any qualms.

***

At a series of lectures in Ahmedabad on Saturday, Shourie bared his fangs some more:

“India is still a passive country when it comes to taking a stand against terrorism….

It should, in fact, take an extremist stance and must prove that it can also create a Kashmir-like situation in Pakistan.

There are many places like Baluchistan, where a Kashmir-like situation can be created but, “hum abhi bhi Panchsheel ke pujari hain (We still worship the tenets of Panchsheel)”….

“Pakistan has been successfully carrying out destruction in India for the last two decades and has still managed to escape problems, while India on every occasion has failed to present a unified response to terrorism and has suffered as a consequence….”

Really?

An eye for an eye? Two eyes for an eye? A jaw for a tooth?

In the name of Vivekananda, should India do unto Pakistan what Pakistan has done to us? Is this a sign of vision on the part of a man who some believe should be the next prime minister, or tunnel vision?

Is such barely disguised hatred and vengeance, hiding behind vedas and upanishads, going to make the subcontinent a better place to live in? Should the people of Pakistan, the poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, pay the price for the sins of the generals?

Should a great, ancient civilisation become a cheap, third-rate, neighbourhood bully?

Has Arun Shourie lost more than his soul and humanity?

Has Arun Shourie just lost it?

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu Business Line

Also read: How Shilpa Shetty halted the Chinese incursions

Crossposted on churumuri

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