SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Some time in the mid-20th century, the legendary New Yorker writer (and foodie) A.J. Liebling famously said, “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one“.
For proof in the early 21st, he might like to take a look at Raghav Bahl.
The founder, editor, controlling shareholder and managing director of Network 18—the company behind CNBC-TV18 and Awaaz; CNN-IBN, IBN7 and IBN Lokmat, Forbes India, in.com and a myriad dotcoms—has just penned his debut book on India and China titled Super Power?: The Amazing Race between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise.
But judging from the unabashed promotion, further promotion, continuing promotion and continuing further promotion of the book on the Network 18 platform, it would seem as if James Joyce has returned to rework, well, Balika Vadhu.
# For days before the launch of the book on August 17, senior editors across Network 18 channels burnt the midnight oil sending off invitations (and reminders) to assemble a sizeable “power” audience.
# In April, four full months before the launch of the “Superbook on Superpowers”, CNN-IBN featured a 2-minute, 3-second report on the book by the network’s best known voice, Shereen Bhan, with accompanying text helpfully reminding viewers that the “brilliantly written, superbly documented, rich and comprehensive account” is already being called as “one most definitive books on the subject.”
# On moneycontrol.com, the financial portal owned by Network 18, an announcement of the book’s launch by Penguin said the book offered “telling insights”.
# By a happy coincidence in April, Bahl received a nice little plug on CNN-IBN‘s breakfast show following his inclusion in a book by an Australian lawyer of corporate India’s bigwigs: “Raghav Bahl among top 30 Indian businessmen.”
# In May, Forbes ran a piece by Bahl titled 2050, An economic odyssey on how India and China would reclaim their positions as economic giants, with the author intro saying the book “is forthcoming from Penguin Allen Lane.”
# In July, Bahl took part in a discussion on Karan Thapar‘s CNBC show India Tonight, with Pranab Bardhan, whose book on the India-China theme ‘Awakening giants of clay‘ was published around the same, as co-panelist.
# In August, all the network’s channels carried the book’s grand launch in Delhi, with their websites carrying Bahl’s opening remarks and the panel discussion moderated by CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai.
# Promotional advertisements on the book have crawled on screens of the network’s channels for months now. On the group’s portal in.com, an anonymous guest posted a discussion urging readers to “Kindly promote this book in institutes“.
# On the CNN-IBN website, a 4,876-word extract of the book was posted on the day after the book’s launch in August.
# Using the group’s portal in.com, a dedicated channel called superpower.in.com was created to showcase the book (along with a Hindi section titled superpowerhindi.in.com).
# Readers of the August 13 issue of the Indian edition of Forbes magazine, received a free 48-page booklet containing an “exclusive excerpt” from Bahl’s book.
# The following issue of Forbes contained a four-page debate between Bahl and Yasheng Huang, an MIT professor of Chinese origin, on the India vs China issue.
# The day after the launch, CNN-IBN declared on its website that “the book was drawing praise from the stalwarts of India Inc and the government,” with a 1-minute, 41-second news report even exhorting viewers to get their copy in “English or Hindi”.
# Readers of the September issue of Entrepreneur, published by Network 18, received a free 48-page booklet of Bahl’s book containing another “exclusive excerpt”.
# On the network’s Hindi business channel, CNBC Awaaz, Bahl featured in a debate with Congress and BJP leaders moderated by the channel’s editor, Sanjay Pugalia.
# In early September, Bahl gave an interview to Shereen Bhan on CNBC-TV18 again, on the “amazing race between India and China“.
# In early September, as the issue of land acquisition for infrastructure projects gathered steam, Bahl popped up on CNBC-TV18‘s special show Fixing India’s Governance, offering the Chinese example.
# At last week’s broadcasters’ association awards fete, all participants of panel discussions received a complimentary copy of Superpower, and so on.
To be fair, Bahl’s debut book has received plenty of press outside the Network18 platform.
The launch was widely reported by The Indian Express, The Asian Age, DNA, Zee News, Financial Express, Hindustan Times (Delhi 1) and (Delhi 2), and Hindustan Times (Bombay), and assorted industry publications like exchange4media, afaqs!, and Indian Television,
And the book has (so far) been reviewed by The Hindu, Businessworld, and India Today, and more are forthcoming.
Nevertheless, the issue at hand is one of Bahl, Network 18 and Superpower?.
The boilerplate excuse is, if an owner cannot push his own book on his own network, what use is his ownership? A good counter question is, would any other debutant author get so much play and promotion across so many media vehicles over so many months?
It can aslo be argued that Bahl is not the first media personality to use his baby is for self-promotion.
The Hindu routinely carries news items of its editor-in-chief N.Ram‘s speeches. The Times of India is full of promotions of its various “brands”, including pictures from Vineet Jain‘s annual Holi parties. India Today and Outlook routinely sneak in pictures of this or that group event on its pages.
Yet, there is such a thing as overdose when it involves the bossman. As a first-generation media mogul, Bahl might like to pick up a lesson from ToI‘s Samir Jain or Anand Bazar Patrika‘s Aveek Sarkar, both of whom maintain a very low profile in their publications.
Or, maybe, Bahl will take comfort from A.J. Liebling’s other famous line: “The function of the press in society is to inform but its role is to make money.”
Photo-illustration: courtesy Forbes
Also read: Is this man the new media mogul of India?
How serious is the trouble at CNBC and CNN-IBN?
The end-game is near for both TV18 and NDTV
26% of India’s most powerful are media barons
The 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros