Posts Tagged ‘TPT’

Tehelka promoter’s woes just don’t seem to end

16 April 2011

K.D. Singh, the controversial promoter behind Tehelka magazine and its shelved Financial World newspaper project, is once again in the news—for the wrong reasons.

Already under a shadow after allegedly buying his way into Parliament last June, and after being stopped at Delhi airport with Rs 57 lakh cash last month, India Today magazine reports that Singh is now under the scanner of the economic offences wing of the Union home ministry.

Reason #1: Singh’s Alchemist group “may have artificially rigged the share prices” in five companies—Usher Agro, Sel Manufacturing, Dhanus Tech, Pyramid Samira and Resurgere Mines.

Reason #2: The stake picked up by two foreign institutional investors (FIIs)—Mavi and Somerset—with links to banned stock market operator Nirmal Kotecha, in Alchemist realty.

The India Today story, authored by former Tehelka business editor Shantanu Guha Ray, says the stock market regulator SEBI is aware of the charges of share-rigging, and is also probing why two Singh companies, Alchemist Limited and Alchemist Realty, did not make mandatory annual and quarterly account disclosures to the Bombay stock exchange (BSE) and the national stock exchange (NSE).

Kotecha had been banned from trading on the stock market in 2009 in a forgery scam involving Pyramid Saimira. (Rajesh Unnikrishnan, an assistant editor of The Economic Times of The Times of India group, and Tatva, a PR firm involved in a joint venture with the Times group, were also banned.)

Shankar Sharma, an earlier Tehelka promoter, too had run into problems with SEBI, and faced charges of manipulating the market with advance knowledge of Operation Westend, a sting operation that caught the then BJP president Bangaru Laxman with his hand in the piejar.

Photograph: courtesy Alchemist

Also read: Moneybag MP says he didn’t turn off FW tap

As the year ends, a veteran’s lament for media

29 December 2009

B.G. Verghese in Deccan Herald:

“As the year closes, one must with sadness and shame pen a lament for the Indian media…. We must lament a disgraceful fall in standards as revealed by well documented stories of the sale of electoral coverage by sections of the news media through ‘packages’ relating to the kind of treatment sought.

“What earlier seemed an isolated, low-level viral outbreak appears to have gained virulence and epidemic proportions.

“Alarm bells  have sounded. The matter is too serious to be left to drift. Maybe the Press Registration Act needs review to entrench the position of the editor who is even now responsible for everything published, including advertisements.

“Can the law require public interest directors to be appointed to boards of all media houses from  tiered panels to act as guardians of the public interest? The establishment of self-regulatory bodies for the broadcast media by no means precludes the necessity for mandatory broadcast regulations as found in every part of the world. This need not curb media freedom. Fast driving requires good brakes. Should ‘private (ads for shares) treaties’ be required to be mandatorily disclosed by the paper/channel concerned? Can the Election Commission compel separate accounting of all advertisements and advertorial support for candidates under election expense?

“These are obviously extremely sensitive and complex matters that impinge on freedom of expression. But when freedom becomes license, democracy is  in peril.”

Read the full article: Lament for the media

PRABHASH JOSHI, A HINDI TITAN, IS NO MORE

6 November 2009

PRABHASH

sans serif records with deep regret the passing away of the veteran Hindi editor and a fearless voice against media malfeasance, Prabhash Joshi, in New Delhi on Friday morning. He was 72 years old.

Founder editor of the Hindi daily Jansatta published by the Indian Express group, Joshi was a key member of the inner circle of the paper’s fiesty proprietor, Ramnath Goenka. Equally proficient in English, Joshi served as resident editor of the Express in Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Delhi.

Joshi had lately taken on a lead role against the selling of editorial space for advertisers by rapacious Indian media houses. He wrote a searing four-part series on the topic in Jansatta, which he continued to serve as editorial advisor after his retirement.

He was also a key speaker at a seminar* on the subject held by the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) in the capital last week, where he revealed the plight of the BJP leader Lalji Tandon, whose campaign in the recent elections was not covered by a single newspaper because he declined to pay for coverage. Tandon won despite the media blackout.

Fittingly, for an avid cricket fan, Prabhash Joshi’s innings came to an end as he watched India fight back in a one-day international match against Australia in Hyderbad, in which Sachin Tendulkar scored the innings of his life while crossing 17,000 runs in his career.

* Disclosures apply

Photograph: courtesy Tehelka

Read the PTI report here: Noted journalist Prabhash Joshi dies

Also read: Searching for Prabhash Joshi on Google

Guess who monetised editorial space first?

2 November 2009

thepioneer

“Paid News”—editorial space being sold for a fee, without revealing to news consumers that it is an advertisement—is suddenly all the rage, with the Magsaysay Award-winning journalist P. Sainath weighing in on the issue.

In just the last week, the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) has conducted a seminar on the topic*; the communist party leader Prakash Karat has dropped some pearls of wisdom; The Hindu has editorially commented on the issue and warned of a follow-up editorial; and media-watchers like B.V. Rao, formerly of the Indian Express, Star News and Zee News, and Mahesh Vijapurkar, formerly of The Hindu, have thrown fresh light on the subject.

But the phenomenon of “paid-for news” is really the institutionalisation of an individual transgression.

Individual reporters and editors with feeble spines—in politics, in business, in cinema, in sport; in English, Hindi and every language; in every part of the country—have always been available for grabs. They could be relied upon to mortgage their minds and do the needful in exchange for cash, cars, government accommodation, house plots, and other sundry benefits (as this news item in The  Pioneer hints at).

A whole band of editors and senior journalists were not loathe to calling up chief ministers (and other movers and shakers) for advertisements to shore up their bottomlines.

And several have done far worse.

In a way, they were only marginally different from “paid news” and are, in many ways, its precursor.

The key difference is that the bean counters in media houses have realised that, in a downturn, there is a small mountain of money to be made by monetising editorial space, and that advertisement as news can put some black on the bottomline. But can mediapersons have any objections over the institutionalisation of a retrograde practice without tackling the individual sins?

* Disclosures apply

Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Pioneer

Also read: Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Selling the soul? Or sustaining the business?

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

A package deal that’s well worth a second look

ADITYA NIGAM: ‘Editors, senior journalists must declare assets’

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

30 September 2009

NDMA-Letter

The media is pilloried, and rightly so, for erasing the line between editorial and advertising. Space sellers are slammed, and rightly so, for allowing advertisers and agencies to run riot. And publishers and editors are pilloried, and rightly so, for not standing up and telling advertisers, agencies and space sellers where to get off.

But what when the advertiser is the government, as the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) is?

And what when the government as advertiser tries to set the editorial rules and guidelines in a tight advertising market, when it tells you how to write the article, how to do the layout, and what kind of newsprint to choose, all in the name of public awareness?

Also read: Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

Times Private Treaties: the full list of ‘partners’

17 May 2009

The following is the full and unexpurgated portfolio of Times Private Treaties, the equity-for-ads investment arm of The Times of India group as on 11 May 2009.

The list of clients as per industry has had disappeared from the Times Private Treaties website following the recent media scrutiny, and the Google cache has had also been cleared [before it was recently restored].

tpt

Also read: Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

Sucheta Dalal in public row on private treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

11 May 2009

Miracles never cease, and Times Private Treaties (TPT), the investment arm of Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL), publishers of The Times of India group of publications, is suddenly the object of attention with two competing newspapers having chosen Monday, 11 May 2009,to turn their attention on it.

The first story by Shuchi Bansal and B.G. Shirsat in Business Standard, a competitor of The Economic Times, says the total value of Times‘ portfolio of the 240 companies in which it had invested cash in return for advertising has halved from Rs 2,700 crore to Rs 1,350 crore due to the stock market slump.

S. Sivakumar, the CEO and acting CFO of Times Private Treaties, contests the figure and denies the TPT model has collapsed. The total value of the business is closer to Rs 2,000 crore, he says, of which listed companies comprise only a small percentage; the unlisted companies have lost 40 per cent of their value.

Of the Rs 2,000 crore spent by BCCL in picking up stakes in companies in return for advertising, the group had served ads worth Rs 600 crore.

In other words, an inventory of ads worth Rs 1,400 crore is still to be exhausted.

***

The second story datelined 11 May 2009 on Times Private Treaties is served up by the Times‘ main competitor in Bombay, Daily News & Analysis (DNA).

Special correspondent N. Sundaresh Subramanian takes up the ethics issues raised by TPT’s investment in Pyramid Saimira, the company which was barred by India’s stock market regular recently following an alleged forgery involving Rajesh Unnikrishnan, an assistant editor at The Economic Times.

UTI chairman U.K. Sinha is quoted as saying this:

We are not very happy about these [ads-for-equity] deals. This is not a healthy development. This should not happen. The Securities and Exchanges Board of India has all the powers. It should act.

An unnamed “senior marketman” is quoted as saying: “If this is not brazen insider trading, what is?”

DNA, which puts the value of TPT’s portfolio at Rs 4,000 crore, says the story is not about a company’s bad portfolio of shares. “It’s about a toxic business model, whose noxious elements are contaminating the whole stock-market ecosystem.”

(DNA reports that the list of companies in which Bennet, Coleman & Co has a stake has been removed from TPT’s website following the controversy. The Google cache version can be found here.)

Logo: courtesy Times Private Treaties

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

Sucheta Dalal in public row on private treaties

PRADYUMAN MAHESHWARI: April 1 and the joke is on us (and them)

Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

24 April 2009

epaperimages_24042009_jadkdkdk-large1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo montage: courtesy DNA

Also read: Business journalism or the journalism of business?

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

Supreme Court notice toCNBC-TV18 analyst

Sushma Ramachandran: Corruption in business journalism

Sucheta Dalal in public row on private treaties

29 June 2008

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

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

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

Now, ToI has hit back, below the belt.

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

Sivakumar’s response:

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

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

In response, she writes back:

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

28 January 2008

The Times of India group’s decision to make strategic investments in mid-level companies, in return for guaranteed advertising and editorial exposure in the group’s publications and media vehicles, through the quaintly named “Private Treaties“, has had several other media houses following suit.

Hindustan Times is said to be well on its way to establishing a similar division. Television majors like NDTV and CNBC are following suit. And as if to show that language publications are not lagging behind, influential Hindi groups like Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran are also off the blocks.

SALIL TRIPATHI, the London-based journalist, formerly with India Today and The Indian Post, and whose work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, and International Herald Tribune, among other publications, writes of the damage these wheels-within-wheels deals cause.

***

By SALIL TRIPATHI in London

Most serious and professional newspapers recognize the need to separate editorial and advertising. The Wall Street Journal goes further, separating fact and opinion. So do other major US newspapers, but WSJ‘s distinctness stems from separate management structures for both.

At the convention of the South Asian Journalists’ Association (SAJA), New York Times editor Bill Keller said that the management structure of the edit page and news pages at the NYT, too, were separate. Which is how it should be, but all newspapers don’t have the luxury of such a roster of writers and management structures.

When editorial and advertising blend, the first casualty is credibility. A reader simply cannot know if a particular company, product, or an idea being promoted is because there’s a mass base of support for it, or because some experts like it, or is it because of financial considerations.

The Times of India‘s new business concept, Private Treaties, is audacious, innovative, and breathtaking. And incredibly underwhelming. It trades advertising for equity in companies.

As described in its poorly-designed, shoddily-edited, and jargon-filled website, it creates intangible value for companies in which the TOI group has a stake, by highlighting its intangible qualities, through the medium of TOI‘s publications.

If all that it means is a promotion restricted to discounted rates for advertising in the TOI, that would be simple enough, and acceptable to most purists in journalism. But with the Times you are never sure. In the past, it has encouraged its reporters to go on junkets to tourist resorts, and not always revealed the nature of the hospitality received.

When the Times group has launched its own businesses such as music, entertainment and so on, using prominent Indian performers, the newspaper’s page 1 has to give way to stories about that event, as though it is the most talked about event in town, if not the only event in town.

I recall in the mid-1990s, there were days of reporting on a modern ballet called Yes!, being staged under the choreography of my classmate from college in Bombay, the gifted dancer Shiamak Davar. The editor-in-chief would call senior Times editors to get hold of writers who’d say nice things about Yes!

A tax raid on TOI‘s owners in the 1980s got barely a mention in the newspaper.

When things got tough, the Jain family’s tax battles with the Indian government were cast as a human rights issue. A writer on the TOI edit page went on a junket with a European pharmaceutical company, and wrote an edit page piece extolling the medicine. Nothing wrong with a story about health on the TOI‘s edit page, but something was rotten in the state of Bori Bunder, if such a story appeared out of the blue, and no rival brand got similar coverage, or even comparison in that piece.

Then, the Times went the whole hog, with features like Impact and Spotlight, when news articles appeared on news pages, which were essentially advertisements.

When a plucky blog, Mediaah! ridiculed some of the practices at the Old Lady of Bori Bunder, the Times‘s legal eagles threatened to sue the website. Pradyuman Maheshwari, the spirited journalist who kept it going, decided to close shop. It is, therefore, refreshing to see Times‘s Gautam Adhikari writing that his paper believes in publish-and-be-damned liberalism.

It is against this background that the Private Treaties are highly suspect.

However much the Times might claim that it keeps editorial and advertising separate – when we know that’s not really the case—there will be an impact. A reporter chasing a story against a company in which the Times group has an equity stake will feel obliged to go softly. A reporter chasing a scandal involving a film star whose music is marketed by the Times group, will view the release of the CD differently.

It is so obvious, that it does not even need stating.

A property scandal, or a scam, involving a company that advertises in the newspaper may be problematic for some editors; how much more complicated it can get when the Times group has an equity stake in that company? And wouldn’t the negative story drive down the value of the investment?

There are sound reasons why across the world, editors try to keep editorial and advertising separate, to enhance the credibility of the editorial matter. When I worked with a US-owned magazine (Far Eastern Economic Review) and wrote an extensive piece on conflict of interest within some leading US investment banks, even though those banks were prominent advertisers in my magazine, at no stage did any editor tell me to go easy on that story.

At the Dow Jones group, reporters cannot own stocks in companies they write about. Other major US papers have similar codes.

In my reporting days in Bombay in the 1980s, I’ve seen, with great dismay, financial reporters of several leading Indian dailies rushing out of a press conference where a company has declared its results, to make phone calls to their brokers to buy or sell shares (there were no cell phones then).

Mint, the new business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group, has transparently placed its code of conduct on the web. It also recently declared to its readers how it would publish advertorials, and how they would be distinct from edit pages, and how edit staff would not be involved in preparing them. (The International Herald Tribune and other American publications do likewise).

Unless the Times institutes similar safeguards, it would seem that Private Treaties marks another step in the journey the Times—“the leader [that] guards the reader”—has taken, transforming the nature of journalism.

In the late 1980s, the Times group had begun distributing promotional products in a plastic bag, together with the magazine, Illustrated Weekly of India, which the Times used to publish. We used to throw those products away, preferring to read the magazine. Now the magazine is gone; the toothpaste remains.

Hopefully, the Times, in its drive to enhance the value of companies it invests in through this innovative mechanism, will also attach some value to its readers.

Disclosure: I write frequently for Mint, and the Wall Street Journal‘s international editions; often for the International Herald Tribune, and on rare occasions for the Times of India. But this is not a case of sour grapes.

Photograph: courtesy saliltripathi.com

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

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