There is change at the top of the totempole of India’s largest English newsmagazine, India Today.
After several false rumours of his impending mortality as helmsman, editor Prabhu Chawla has been sent off to look after the language editions of the magazine.
Author-editor-columnist M.J. Akbar has been named editorial director of India Today and the English news channel owned by the group, Headlines Today.
The appointments were made public in an email sent by group editor-in-chief Aroon Purie to staff last night. The changes will take effect from Friday, September 24.
Below is the full text of Purie’s circular flagging the changes:
“It gives me great pleasure in announcing the formation of a brand new SBU (strategic business unit) within Living Media, which will become an independent company very soon, that will address the burgeoning opportunity of Indian language publishing and all related extensions in the Indian language domain. To begin with, all current India Today language brands will be assigned to this new SBU.
This new company will be placed under the leadership of Prabhu Chawla, who will be designated Editor (Languages) and CEO. Prabhu Chawla will report into a Board. Given the tremendous opportunity of this space and in view of his new responsibilities, Chawla will give up the editorship of India Today – English edition and India Today – international and all their related extensions.
“As editor of the magazine for the last 14 years he has done great work in turning it into a weekly from fortnightly and maintaining its position as India’s leading newsmagazine. He will also be consulting editor to Business Today.
“Prabhu’s new mandate will be to address the business and editorial opportunity of Indian language publishing in an aggressive and focused manner. His efforts will be directed towards growing the existing language publications and to launch many more new language publications in the future. In collaboration with ITGD (India Today Group Digital) he will be addressing digital opportunities in the language space as well.
“Prabhu will continue to be associated with Seedhi Baat in Aaj Tak and will spearhead the group’s initiative in setting up a media/journalism institute. He will also continue to lead the group’s content archival project and the library resources. This comes into effect from September 24th, 2010.
“It also gives me immense pleasure in announcing the appointment of M. J. Akbar as editorial director of India Today (English) and India Today (international) and their related extensions.
“He will also have the additional charge as Editorial Director of Headlines Today.
“MJ, as he is popularly known in the industry needs no introduction, given his rich and long experience in launching, managing and leading several top print publications in the country. MJ comes on board effective September 24th, 2010 and will report to me.
“As you can see, these are significant changes in the editorial leadership of our group’s flagship brands, which I am sure will be transformed by them to meet the challenges of the fast changing world that we live in. They will explore new opportunities too.
“Please join me in wishing Prabhu and MJ the very best and I also seek your active support in making this a smooth and successful transition.”
Till The Week was launched in the early 1980s (and Outlook* in the mid-1990s), Akbar’s Sunday magazine, published by the Ananda Bazaar Patrika (ABP) group, was fortnightly India Today‘s main competitor. Akbar currently has a stake in the weekly newspaper The Sunday Guardian and writes a column for The Sunday Times of India.
Under Chawla, a former ABVP volunteer who used to cycle to the offices of India Today delivering press releases, India Today took a shine for the BJP and the magazine’s anti-Congress vibe reportedly earned the displeasure of the ruling dispensation.
Akbar, a former Congress MP, too has been vehemently anti-Congress and anti-UPA. Dislodged in 2008 as editor-in-chief of The Asian Age which he helped found, Akbar has gone so far as to accuse prime minister Manmohan Singh of “sabotage” by signing the civilian nuclear deal with the United States.
Ironically, both Akbar and Chawla were in the running for a Rajya Sabha seat on the BJP ticket in 2008, but their ambitions were nixed with the nomination of another journalist turned politician, Balbir K. Punj. Chawla who figured in the Indian Express 2009 power list at No. 71, didn’t figure in the 2010 edition.
* Disclosures apply