Posts Tagged ‘Sevanti Ninan’

What they’re saying about Express ‘sue’ report

16 May 2012

A 10-page defamation notice sent by the legal advisors of The Indian Express to Open magazine, over an interview granted to the latter by Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman of Outlook* magazine, criticising the Express ‘C’ report, is now in the public domain.

The letter—on behalf of the Express, the paper’s editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, its reporters Ritu Sarin, Pranab Samanta and Ajmer Singh—seeks the removal from Open‘s website of the offending interview and an apology from the magazine and its employees, failing which it threatens a Rs 500 crore lawsuit (Rs 100 crore for each).

The Open interview was conducted by Hartosh Singh Bal, and like in other Express lawsuits, even the web official who put up the interview online has been named.

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Anonandon:

“There are some things in life that we will perhaps never understand. Like how life came into being. Or the size of the universe. Or the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey and its two follow-ups are bestsellers.

“Or what possessed Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express to not only sue Open magazine for publishing an interview with Vinod Mehta (in which he criticised Indian Express’s story about a potential army coup), but to sue them for some $95 million.”

Anant Rangaswami on First Post:

“The Indian Express, like all of us, including Firstpost, make such comments every day. As Mehta and Open magazine have done. If Mehta describes the original IE story as the mother of all mistakes, this legal notice might cause the Express the mother of all embarrassments.”

The Hoot:

“Rs 100 crore defamation notices are now par for the course. After Justice Sawant‘s suit against Arnab Goswami, and Times Now‘s legal notice for the same damages to The Hoot, we now have Shekhar Gupta and other authors of the Indian Express page one story on April 4 asking Vinod Mehta and Open magazine for  Rs  100 crore (sic) in damages for defaming them.”

Mumbai Mirror:

“What is perhaps not so well known is the long acrimonious history between Vinod and Shekhar, with Outlook often taking pot-shots at the newspaper. All that bad blood has now come to a boil.

“While Open is examining legal options, Vinod, perhaps the only editor to keep this plaque in his office-Hard Work Never Killed Anyone, But Why Take The Risk-is characteristically mild-mannered. ‘What’s the fuss, he (Shekhar) is perfectly entitled to sue me if he wishes to.’

Sanjaya Baru on Facebook:

“Hartosh is a good journalist, but this interview was bad judgement, and giving the dubious Vinod Mehta free run was wrong editorial judgement. Vinod has no business saying what he has, but then what’s new, he is like that only! Glad Shekhar has taken him to court.”

Sevanti Ninan on MxM:

“Vinod Mehta essentially said it was a planted story and it was a huge mistake to carry it. Considering that the first byline on the story was that of the chief editor, that is quite a statement to make. You are saying the chief editor and his colleague are susceptible to plants, thereby seriously questioning their credibility. So I guess the Express could hardly ignore it.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Indian Express ‘C’ report: scoop, rehash or spin?

Indian Express stands by its ‘C’ report

How the media viewed the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Aditya Sinha tears into the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Adolf Hitler reacts to the Indian Express ‘C’ report

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.

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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:

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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

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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

EPW journalist bags Appan Menon award

15 September 2011

Srinivasan Ramani, a senior assistant editor with the journal Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), has bagged the Appan Menon memorial award for young journalists.

Ramani, who is pursuing his PhD in international at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), won the prize for his coverage of India’s role in the emergence of Nepal’s new constitutional republic.

The award, which carries a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh, is presented by the Appan Menon memorial trust, in memory of the journalist who once anchored The World This Week on NDTV. Menon had earlier worked with The Hindu and Frontline as well as news agencies PTI and UNI.

View his P. Sainath interview: Prisoners of profit

View his Sevanti Ninan interview: Antidote to Murdochisation

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Also read: Rema Nagarajan of ToI bags Nieman fellowship

Mint‘s Monika Halan among Yale fellows

Chameli Devi prize for Tehelka scribe, K.K. Shahina

Pallava Bagla bags ‘Oscar’ of science journalism

Saikat Datta bags prize for using RTI for story

India-China friendship award for Pallavi Aiyar

Knight fellowship for Frontline’s Dionne Bunsha

It’s all official about the return of Sanjaya Baru

19 August 2009

For days and weeks, New Delhi was abuzz with rumours of the return of Sanjaya Baru (in picture). Would he go back to the Prime Minister’s Office, where he had served as media advisor? Would he be sent to the Planning Commission? Would he be in charge of programme implementation?

Well, it turns out he will be the new editor of the business daily Business Standard from January 2010 in place of T.N. Ninan, who is a minority share-holder in the paper along with his wife, the media critic Sevanti Ninan.

Baru will report to Ninan as editor of the paper and then as editorial director of the company.

Also read: Sauce for a paper ain’t sauce for a TV station?

Conflict of interest and interest in conflicts

External link: Sanjaya Baru on H.Y. Sharada Prasad

Sauce for a paper ain’t sauce for a TV channel?

11 February 2009

img12

If it is not all right in the eyes of The Hoot for NDTV to select the BJP’s prime minister-in-waiting L.K. Advani for a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2009, was it OK for Business Standard—in which Hoot editor Sevanti Ninan has a staketo invite the leader of the opposition to hand the Business Standard Awards in 2008?

Photograph: courtesy Business Standard

Also read: Should the media be honouring politicians?

Conflict of interest and an interest in conflicts?

Should the media be honouring politicians?

8 February 2009

Should a designated prime ministerial candidate of a mainstream political party be chosen and given an award by a television channel which might have to cover him if and when he takes charge? Should the candidate so eagerly accept such a public honour?

The candidate is L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the channel is New Delhi Television (NDTV). On 20 January 2009, in the midst of its annual awards ritual, Prannoy Roy‘s channel called Advani on stage and handed him the “Lifetime Achievement Award”.

According to a news item put up on Advani’s website, the NDTV citation read:

“He (L.K. Advani) is a grassroot (sic) leader and is credited with having made the BJP a formidable force in Indian politics, through clarity of vision, precise statements and an astute sense of timing. Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister. BJP has named him as a Prime Ministerial candidate for the party and the National Democratic Alliance for the 2009 general elections.”

There were two surprising things about this:

1) Advani was being given an award from an English language television station that he and others of his ilk have firmly cast in the “pseudo-secular” mould, a cynical portmanteau that is Advani’s sad and singular contribution to the English language.

2) The jury comprising, besides Roy, Anu Aga, executive chairperson, Thermax group; Fali S. Nariman, senior advocate, Supreme Court; William Dalrymple, historian and writer; Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator; Rahul Bajaj, businessman; Shashi Tharoor, former UN official, were reportedly not aware that such an award was being bestowed on Advani.

There is a third element that is even more unsettling: the unwholesome sight of a major journalism outlet handing out a “lifetime achievment award” by talking of his pro-media stand 33 years ago, while ignoring his more recent “contributions” to Indian society.

The media website, The Hoot, run by Sevanti Ninan, wife of Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan, has picked holes in the ethics behind the handout.

“What exactly, some of us want to ask, have been Advani’s  contributions to Indian politics which deserve an award? Setting in motion the events that led to the destruction of the Babri masjid?  And contributed  to a heightened  communalising of the Indian polity?

“An award coming from a channel that helped to expose the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat which took place under the watch of a BJP government? The party Advani is leading into the elections this year? A channel that doubtless sees itself as a champion of secularism?”

The seven-member jury, according to The Hoot, had not voted to give Advani an award on awards’ night.

It was also not made clear to the audience at the NDTV awards’ function or the audience viewing the spectacle back home that the jury had no role in choosing Advani for a lifetime of achievements.

Indeed, two members of the jury wrote to Roy on the issue, with one of them reportedly saying “he would not want to be associated with any award which gave prizes to communal hatemongers”.

(At least one member of the jury, Anu Aga, is known for having confronted Advani’s protege, Narendra Modi, with the situation prevailing in the relief camps set up in the state for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.)

Roy reportedly clarified that it has been “normal practice every eyar for NDTV to reserve the right for its editors to select and present one or more non-jury awards.”

***

Just who NDTV’s editors picked in previous years is uncertain, but one of the strongest criticisms for this year’s choice has come from Siddharth Varadarajan, the strategic affairs editor of The Hindu.

On his blog, Varadarajan writes:

“After all, Advani was widely acknowledged as being one of India’s worst Home ministers when he held the job between 1998 and 2004. And he’s no great shakes in his current avatar as Leader of the Opposition either.”

Varadarajan then goes on to make a “brief list” of Advani’s “achievements” during just 11 years of his life, starting 1992, a period NDTV clearly ignored in its citation, while waxing eloquent on his “anti-terror” stance:

1. Demolition of Babri Masjid (contribution to conspiracy thereof), 1992
2. Hijacking of IC 814 and release of deadly terrorists like Masood Azhar, 1999
3. Massacre of Sikhs by terrorists at Chittisinghpora, 2000
4. Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg, March 2003
5. First-ever terrorist attack on Amarnath yatris, 1999
6. Terrorist attack on Parliament, December 2001
7. Godhra and the Gujarat massacre of Muslims, 2002
8. Terrorist attack on Akshardham and Raghunath temples in 2002
9. Harassment of media from Tehelka to Iftikhar Gilani
10. Failure to take any decision on dozens of death row mercy petitions pending before him from 1998 to 2004 and now demanding the Congress government move swiftly on the mercy petition of Afzal.

So,does L.K. Advani really deserve a “lifetime achievement” award? Should a media organisation be giving an award to a potential prime minister it might have to cover? Should a potential prime minister be so over-eager to receive it?

Adapted from a longer article on churumuri.com

Also read: ‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

‘Weak Manmohan, yes, but what about Advani?’

CHURUMURI POLL: Is L.K. Advani lying on IC-814?

Conflict of interest and an interest in conflicts

5 January 2009

The media website The Hoot, created under the auspices of the Media Foundation and run by Sevanti Ninan, who writes a fortnightly media column in The Hindu, has this piece of media gossip today:

“Rumour mills in Delhi have it that Mint editor Raju Narisetti’s exit last month had something to do with the home minister’s displeasure over an anonymous letter from an IAS officer which Mint carried, and then re-carried. The Hoot ran into P. Chidambaram and asked him if it was true. His answer: “Who is the editor of Mint? I don’t know him. I have never met him and I did not know he had left.”

How would Mint, which set a high benchmark in media ethics under Narisetti’s stewardship, report the same incident which has conflict of interest oozing from every word?

“Rumour mills in New Delhi have it that Mint editor Raju Narisetti’s exit late last month had something to do with the Union home minister’s displeasure over an anonymous open letter to the prime minister from an IAS officer which Mint carried, and then re-carried in an open clarification. A Hoot correspondent ran into P. Chidambaram in the market/ at a party and asked him if it was true. His answer: “Who is the editor of Mint? I don’t know him. I have never met him and I did not know he had left. Hoot editor Sevanti Ninan is the spouse of T.N. Ninan, the editor of Business Standard, which competes with Mint in select markets. The couple own a minority stake in BS. T.N. Ninan started off as a sub-editor on the business desk in the Hindustan Times, which is owned by HT Media that also publishes Mint. Narisetti’s now-defunct blog, The Romantic Realist, referred to a BS column by its No.2 editor A.K. Bhattacharya, which markedly refused to name Mint while commenting on the original controversy involving Mint and the pseudonymous IAS officerAthreya‘, in its penultimate post.”

‘Hindu had a discernible pro-China line on Tibet’

21 April 2008

Tibet is in India’s backyard. Tibetans have been amidst us for decades. The Olympic torch issue has turned a dormant issue into political hot-button with diplomatic ramifications. So how did India’s major English newspapers cover the uprising in Lhasa?

Sevanti Ninan, Shayoni Sarkar and Tenzin Paldon of The Hoot have done a qualitative analysis of four leading newspapers to see “how multi-dimensional and extensive the coverage was”, and they have a story to tell:

“The Times of India and the Hindustan Times offered both extensive and balanced coverage, HT providing a wider gamut of perspectives, and ToI more voluminous coverage.

“The Hindu and the Indian Express were narrower in their breadth of coverage and less inclined to give all sides of the story. Express, as is its wont, had feisty headlines a fairly strong pro-Tibet line, and fewer stories overall because it did not waste newsprint on other dimensions of the story.

“The Hindu was reticent, it had less than 50 per cent of the number of items on this story found in ToI. It was also the only paper not to have a story on Tibet every single day in the three weeks covered. There were three days when it had no coverage at all. It was the only paper with a discernible pro-China line.”

Read the full study here: Are they telling it like it is?

Also read: When my newspaper is no longer my newspaper

What’s in a word? Don’t ask the poor ‘sod’

12 March 2008

As if cricket’s byzantine “Laws” weren’t enough, the lexicon is becoming a potent weapon in the wars of words that have enveloped cricket in recent months.

Down under, the use of labels like “monkey” and “obnoxious little weed” by rival players sent cricket correspondents scurrying to their dictionaries. Back home, the use of a three-letter word in a blog critique of a newspaper editorial seems to have stirred a semantical tsunami in an oversensitive editor’s teacup.

Commenting on an editorial in The Telegraph, Calcutta, on the auction of players in the Indian Premier League, Darius Nakhoonwala wrote on The Hoot that the “poor sod”—the “usually sensible” leader writer—seemed to have been stung by a bee in the proprietor’s bonnet midway.

The paper’s editorial page editor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Mastermind finalist and historian of standing, has no problems with the critic imputing proprietorial injections in the leader. He doesn’t have any problems either with the guesstimate of the leader writer’s financial status.

Instead, he gets into a slanging match with the blog editor, Sevanti Ninan, and the critic on whether “sod” is a permissible epithet or not.

Read the full exchange: Is ‘sod’ permissible?

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