Tag Archives: Reliance Industries Limited

18 factoids in ‘Caravan’ profile of Shekhar Gupta

shekhar The December “media issue” of Caravan magazine has a 20-page profile of former Indian Express editor-in-chief and shortlived India Today editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta.

Authored by Krishn Kaushik, the profile is titled “Capital Reporter”, with the strapline “How profit and principle shaped the journalism of Shekhar Gupta”.

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# The son of a minor bureaucrat from Haryana, Shekhar Gupta‘s annual salary at The Indian Express sometimes exceeded Rs 10 crore ($1.6 million) per year. Current chief editor Raj Kamal Jha got Rs 1.25 crore, Jaideep “Jojo” Bose of The Times of India was paid under Rs 2 crore.

# Shekhar Gupta made Rs 36.67 crore in “capital gains” in 2009-10, through the demerger of the Indian Express‘s real estate wing and the newspapers, which resulted in the sale of the iconic Express Towers at Nariman Point in Bombay.

# Gupta is not too bothered with his exit from The Indian Express or his even hurried exit from India Today: “Look, I am a bit of a big fish right now for these factors to bother me now.”

# A senior television journalist is quoted as saying: “He is a social terrorist. He will look at you for five seconds, then look at the next person coming in.” Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar says Gupta once “cut me dead and walked away” at a party.

# Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: “He looks down upon you [if you are unable to make use of the opportunities the free market throws up, work hard and make it to the top].”

# After interviewing over 50 people, the reporter Krishn Kaushik writes that “detractors of the ‘Shekhar Gupta phenomenon’ contended that Gupta’s wealth compromised the “Journalism of Courage” he promoted at the Indian Express.

# Gupta categorically says: “Nobody can ever find a paisa which will be a surprise to my taxman or to any of my employers.”

# Fallen Tehelka editor Tarun J. Tejpal who is quoted several times in the story, says: “If in reviving the Express he made money, not just the lala, I don’t know what the problem is.”

# When an Indian Express report on the alleged violations in the acqusition of land for Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani‘s Antilla tower was to appear in the Bombay edition, he called resident editor Samar Halarnkar “from a train in Italy” although in fairness, he did not block the story.

# Krishn Kaushik writes that at least half-a-dozen current and former members of the Express news team gave the reporter “specific instances” of stories being killed, allegedly without discussion with those reporting them—stories that went against a top industrialist, a cabinet minister, a real-estate group.

# One journalist described how Gupta once had him debrief a foreign government agency, which seemed irrelevant to any of the stories he was working on.

# Former Union home and finance minister P. Chidambaram was the ‘holy cow’ in the Express newsroom. “You could not criticise him.” The Express staff “sort of had the feeling that the Ambanis were untouchable.”

# Around the time Shekhar Gupta became CEO of Express, a gentleman called B.S. Raman would come to Express Towers in Bombay for a few hours every day from the nearby Reliance Industries’ office at Maker Chambers. Raman tells the reporter he was asked by his office to help Viveck Goenka‘s company.

# A Express staffer told the reporter that the C-story  “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked” had been pushed by P. Chidambaram, who was then the home minister, and Nehchal Sandhu, then the director of the intelligence bureau.

# Kaushik writes that Chidambaram pushed for Shekhar Gupta to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2009, which was eventually given to former Tribune, Express, TOI and Hindustan Tims editor, H.K. Dua. However, both Gupta and Chidambaram deny the claim.

# “Ashutosh Rais” was the pen name of former Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan, for pieces which he wrote for Democratic World, where Shekhar Gupta held his first formal journalism job as an assistant editor.

# Shekhar Gupta had been in touch with Aroon Purie of India Today from around the time he relinquished the CEO role at The Indian Express in August 2013.

# Gupta’s mentor Arun Shourie said the jump to India Today as vice-chairman and editor-in-chief was a mismatch: “Yeh shaadi galat ho gayi hai.”

Anant Goenka, the son of Viveck Goenka who heads Express‘ online push and whose arrival in 2010 is widely seen as propelling Shekhar Gupta’s exit, did not speak to the Caravan reporter, saying he did not want to discuss an “ex-employee.”

Also read: Shekhar Gupta gives up his managerial role

To all Express employees. From: Shekhar Gupta

From Viveck Goenka. To: Indian Express employees

The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, Gen V.K. Singh

The Indian Express, Reliance and Shekhar Gupta

RIL, Network18 & the loss of media heterogeneity

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Even as the takeover of Network18 by India’s biggest corporate house, Reliance Industries Limited, receives scant scrutiny in the mainstream media on what it portends in the long term, the journalist and educator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta weighs in, in the Economic & Political Weekly:

“The consequence of RIL strengthening its association with Network18 is a clear loss of heterogeneity in the dissemination of information and opinions. Media plurality in a multicultural country like India will diminish.

“In particular, the space for providing factual information as well as expressing views that are not in favour of (or even against the interests of) India’s biggest corporate conglomerate will shrink, not just in the traditional mainstream media (print, television and radio) but in the new media (internet and mobile telephony).

“There is growing concentration of ownership in the country’s already-oligopolistic media markets. In the absence of restrictions on cross-media ownership, these trends will inexorably lead to the continuing privatisation and “commodification” of information instead of making it more of a “public good” that could benefit larger sections of society, in particular the underprivileged.”

For the record, RIL sent Thakurta a legal notice for his book Gas Wars: crony Capitalism and the Ambanis.

Read the full article: What future for the media in India?

File photograph: RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani holds a jar containing the first crude oil produced from the KG-D6 block in 2009 (Punit Paranjpe/Reuters)

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Also read: Has media blacked out RIL takeover of Network 18?

‘Media freedom bleaker with Ambani domination’

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

EPW on the Reliance-ETV-RIL deal within a deal

WaPo, Amazon, HT and the Reliance-TV18 deal

‘Has media blacked out RIL takeover of TV18?’

As India’s biggest business house Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) goes through the motions of formally taking complete control of one of India’s biggest TV networks, Network 18, the veteran journalist and commentator Kuldip Nayar writes in Deccan Herald:

“I was not surprised when television channels did not cover the taking over of a large TV news network by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited.

“Most channels — roughly around 300 — are owned by property dealers who can afford to spend Rs 1 crore, an average monthly expenditure, through money laundering. Every one of them wants to be the Reliance one day.

“What has taken me aback is that the press has reported the deal but has preferred to keep quiet.

“Even though journalism has ceased to be a profession and has become an industry, I was expecting some reactions, at least from the Editors’ Guild of India. But then it is understandable when it has rejected my proposal that editors should also declare their assets public, the demand which they voice for politicians.

“Double standards make a mockery of the high pedestal on which the media sit.”

Read the full column: Where’s free media?

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Also read: Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win CCI approval?

Reliance has no ‘direct’ stake in media companies

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Signature campaign against CSDS poll tracker

As the Chinese might say, the Indian media is living in strange times even before the advent of Narendra Modi.

The Aam Aadmi Party accuses TV stations of being bought over by Modi. Sting operations reveal that opinion pollsters are willing to up their estimates of Modi for a price.

News channels show unedited feeds from Modi’s own cameras as if they were their own. Editorial changes are being made in newspapers and magazines with a change in government in prospect.

Etcetera.

Now, even the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) with its formidable reputation as a credible pollster for CNN-IBN, is facing the music.

Yogendra Yadav, for long CSDS’s face on TV during election time, is now a member of AAP, standing from Gurgaon; Madhu Kishwar is a prominent BJP votary, whose interviews with Modi are now being aired on India News and NewsX.

As CNN-IBN (now owned by Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries) airs its “Election Tracker“*, a signature campaign has been launched which scurrilously alleges that the CSDS survey is “a campaign for BJP, not research work”.

Launched by “Manjeet Singh” who claims to be from Patna, the petition on change.org headlined “CSDS poll survey for CNN-IBN will take BJP close to 272 in next 3 days. Is this Research?”, reads (uncorrected):

“It’s not news anymore that the Sanjay Kumar‘s contractors who has funding coming in to their media houses from the big corporates are forcing  Sanjay Kumar reach a figure of close to 272 in the survey.

“CSDS’s credibility is being used for this agenda. Seems that the sting operation on the survey agencies was done to enhance the credibility of CSDS’s survey just before Sanjay Kumar’s closer to 272 projections for the BJP was to appear on Television.”

For the record, CSDS’s surveys for CNN-IBN have seen the BJP numbers go up from 156-164 in July 2013 to 171-179 in November, and 192-210 in January 2014.

* The CNN-IBN election tracker is in association with Week magazine. Disclosures apply.

Network 18’s right-wing swing on Caravan cover

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The December issue of Caravan magazine has a 16-page cover story on how the Raghav Bahl founded Network 18 has taken a turn towards right-wing politics after its takeover by Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Industries.

Headlined ‘The Network Effect’ and written by Rahul Bhatia, who authored the Arnab Goswami profile last year, the article chronicles a number of instances to underline the group’s rightward lurch.

# First Post editor-in-chief R. Jagannathan began attending Forbes India meetings in February 2013 as part of a planned integration.

“Glancing at a sheet of paper he had arrived with, Jagannathan yelled: ‘You’re doing it wrong. Forbes is about the wealthy. It’s about right-wing politics. You guys are writing about development and poverty. If you guys don’t get it, I’m going to make sure that you do.”

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# “Last year, CNBC TV18’s Vivian Fernandes, who co-wrote Raghav Bahl’s book, was despatched to interview Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. A person involved with the production of the interview recalled that Fernandes asked a difficult question about water conservation in Gujarat.

“Modi’s organisers had asked to see the questions before the interview, and demanded the water conservation question’s removal.

“When Fernandes sprung it on him anyway, Modi broke away from the camera and glared at a public relations executive in the room.

“‘Why is he talking like this?’ the person recalled Modi saying. ‘Are we not paying for this interview?'” The production crew realised that the interview was part of a promotion for Modi.”

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# “In the weeks leading up to the group’s first Think India conference in April, Raghav Bahl told his management that he wanted to start a foundation called Think Right.

“CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai and deputy editor Sagarika Ghose, objected to the name, believing that it was certain to be misinterpreted. ‘they believed that ‘right’ would come to mean Hindutva, you know?’ a person involved in the discussions said.

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# “‘There was a concerted effort to drive a large visible campaign to prop up Narendra Modi in the run-up to the Think India platform,’ former Forbes India editor Indrajit Gupta said.

Each channel, publication and website had to carry promotional material of some kind. ‘They wanted a Modi cover story from Forbes India.'”

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# At the group’s senior management getaway in Macau in early 2013, “the editors’ mood sank further when Raghav Bahl let the large gathering know he favoured Narendra Modi as India’s next prime minister.

“Until last year, Rajdeep was the most important person here. Now after Mr Ambani, Modi is the most important person.'”

“I spoke to the editor again in the middle of November. ‘It’s serious. They have started putting indirect pressure on editors to not criticise Narendra Modi,’ the editor said. ‘I think Think India was created to promote him.'”

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# “Early on November 9, Rajdeep Sardesai travelled to Nagpur to meet RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Two senior editors in touch with Sardesai independently confirmed that Raghav Bahl had pressed him to meet Bhagwat and other RSS leaders.

“‘Raghav is keen on promoting right-of-centre policies. He believes Indians have enterprise in our blood,’ the person involved in the decision over the Think India foundation’s naming said.”

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# “Network 18 is not alone in its rightward swing, but as Modi’s value in the attention econmy continues to rise, no one in English-language broadcasting has traded more on his appeal than CNN-IBN.

“For four days in October and November 2013, the Centre for Media Studies, an independent thinktank in Delhi, monitored the primetime political coverage of some major English news channels.

“Of the five they surveyed, CNN-IBN covered Modi for over 72 minutes, a greater duration than anyone else. At the same time, it covered Rahul Gandhi for approximately 18 minutes.”

Also read: ‘Media’s Modi-fixation needs medical attention’

How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is effective TRP

Not just a newspaper, a no-paid-news newspaper!

How the ‘Forbes India’ editors were forced out

IG_DK_Charles_Shishir

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

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The abrupt exit last week of the top four editorial heads of the business magazine Forbes India, including of its editor Indrajit Gupta, has swung the spotlight once again on the questionable—but rarely ever questioned—human resources (HR) policies and practices in Indian media houses.

In this case, one of India’s biggest: Network 18.

On the face of it, the “termination” of services of Indrajit Gupta, and the “resignation” of managing editor Charles Assisi, director photography Dinesh Krishnan, and executive editor Shishir Prasad, might seem like a small matter—even an “internal” issue—in a company whose 2012 assets were valued at Rs 2,400 crore.

In fact, Network 18’s chief operating officer Ajay Chacko sought to paint the exits as a routine matter; almost a natural consequence of the ongoing “restructuring” in the company after First Post editor R. Jagannathan‘s leadership role was expanded in March to also overlook the print publications in the stable such as Forbes India.

“There were always going to be some redundancies after ‘Jaggi’ took over [as editor-in-chief],” Chacko told Media Nama, after reports of the sudden exits emerged, suggesting that in a converged newsroom, the presence of the four was not required.

However, a closer examination of L’affaire Forbes India, based on multiple off-the-record conversations, reveals the brazen manner in which giant Indian media companies, whose promoters flatulently pontificate on how India must be run, conduct themselves and play around with the lives of their employees and their families.

More importantly, the exits throw not-so-kind light on the pulls and pressures Indian newsrooms are facing due to growing financial pressures; how global brands which franchise their titles are dealt with by their Indian partners; and how the high-stakes game of “valuations” is getting shaped in the digital age.

Above all, that all this should have happened in a business magazine belonging to a company with two business TV channels (CNBC-TV18 and CNBC Awaaz), which is part-owned by India’s most powerful business house, Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Industries Limited, provides no small irony.

And that there is so much silence all around from the media fraternity tells its own story.

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forbes-india

The launch issue of Forbes India, 2009

Insiders at Forbes India, which was launched within four days of the UPA return to power in 2009, say there was little indication of the impending exits of M/s Gupta & Co till as recently as even a fortnight ago.

When the magazine came out with a special double issue to mark its fourth anniversary recently, SMSes and e-mails congratulating each other were being happily exchanged between the editorial and business sides.

But plenty was afoot in the boardroom of Network 18’s Matunga office in central Bombay, where Forbes India staff were now sharing the floor with their First Post colleagues, in the first baby steps towards “integration”—the creation of a combined newsroom where the website’s and magazine’s staffers would happily cohabit under editor-in-chief R. Jagannathan, “Jaggi” as he is known to friends and colleagues.

Indrajit Gupta, Charles Assisi, Dinesh Krishnan and Shishir Prasad, all key founding-members of Forbes India’s launch team, were involved in conversations with the HR side of the company, reminding them on the Employee Stock Options (ESOPs) which they had apparently been promised five years ago when they were being induced to come on board.

The quantum of the combined ESOPs is not known.

Forbes India insiders say it is about Rs 2 crore in all, split between the four; others at Network 18 say it could be a little higher but not exceeding Rs 5 crore. However, unlike in listed companies, Network 18 underwrote the value of the ESOPs. Meaning: it assured the four Forbes India staffers that it would pay the promised money at the end of four years.

Network 18 sources say about a month and a half back, the four Forbes India staffers began the process of cashing out their ESOPs, first informally, then officially.

On Friday, May 24, when they met formally with the company’s HR, they were told to forego their old ESOP scheme and presented with a new ESOP scheme.

They were given a 48-hour deadline to sign up.

However, on Monday, May 27, the HR head Shampa Kochhar, in the presence of Jagannathan, is said to have served editor Indrajit Gupta a fait accompli: resign on the spot by signing a letter that absolved the company of all claims on the five-year-old ESOPs and take a severance cheque. Or have your services terminated.

Indrajit Gupta is believed to have opted for the latter course.

The experience of the other three was no different.

They, too, were told to relinquish the old ESOP plan and presented with a new ESOP plan. And they, too, were told that they must resign on the spot or face termination with no benefits.

Unlike Gupta, Assisi, Krishnan and Prasad resigned.

(A fifth ESOP recipient, online director Deepak Ajwani, however acquiesced.)

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When news of the exits trickled out on Thursday, May 30, it was clear that the dirty tricks department was already at work.

Forbes editors were negotiating with a PE (private equity) fund to take over the magazine once Network 18’s franchise with Forbes expires next year. Network 18 found out and asked these editors to quit,” read one SMS this reporter has seen.

In truth, though, Network 18’s end-goal of integrating the Forbes India newsroom with the First Post newsroom seems to have been the trigger which sparked the implosion—and the ESOP scheme seems to have come in handy to force the exits.

The less charitable view within Network 18 is that the “old school” Gang of Four sought to cash out their ESOPs because of their reservations over the “integration” plan and that they were always hoping to go out this way and end up as martyrs in the eyes of the world.

# From the Forbes India perspective, integration meant its reporters reacting to breaking business news and writing for First Post, perhaps vice-versa too. It also meant getting used to having an editor-in-chief (Jagannathan) besides the editor (Indrajit Gupta).

# From the First Post perspective, integration meant the domain expertise of an established brand like Forbes India in business stories. It meant access to sources and subjects. It also meant credibility.

# From Network 18 group’s perspective, it meant a larger workforce to feed the “bottomless monster” that is the worldwide web, at no extra cost.

Initially it looked like a win-win, and the indication was that Jagannathan and Gupta were on the same page.

The two had worked together at Business Standard and at a review meeting in April, the former is reported to have said that he would make way for the Forbes India team to run the show after a few months.

Network 18 sources say initially Gupta & Co were not seen as a “hindrance” to the integration, although at least two of the four were allegedly told in their “exit” meetings with HR that they were seen as such and that they would be “redundant” in the converged newsroom.

Since a couple of crores could not have been the problem for either Network 18 or RIL, the key problem area could perhaps have been “mindset”.

The orbits of the two organisations—and their means, methods, motives and motivations—are signficantly different.

Like its US parent, Forbes India occupies the leisurely and rarefied world of a fortnightly. Stories are deeply, immersively researched. Stories are slow-cooked from a week up to a month or more, before being written and re-written and re-re-written by editors.

On the other hand, First Post is all speed and on-the-spur. Provocation is its middle name. And, despite coming from a massive group backed by a giant business house, much of its output is cheaply spun and rehashed by arm-chair pundits with an “angle” and “attitude”.

More importantly, the political impulses of the two organisations were diametrically different.

Although Forbes prides itself as the “capitalist tool” in America, Forbes India had a slight liberal streak. First Post, on the other hand, like Network 18 founder Raghav Bahl, unabashedly tilts to the right. (Bahl recently said in the presence of Narendra Modi that India’s predominant political impulse was “right”.)

In the end, a low-cost solution seems to have been found to a potentially head-on editorial—and ideological—collision between the online and offline organisations, but at what cost?

Regardless of what prompted the exits, will Forbes, which licensed its title to Bahl’s Network 18 for six years, be told why the top four names on the masthead will be suddenly missing from the next issue?

Will its readers be told?

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At the end of the day, though, the issue is one of signals.

By securing the exit of senior editors in this fashion, by showing how dispensable even an Editor is, the signal has gone down the line, to fall in line. Or else.

And by making ESOPs such an elastic matter, other ESOP holders in different companies of Network 18 have been sent the signal that they too can take nothing for granted.

But…

# What signal does the viewer receive at 9 am every week day, when Udayan Mukherjee and Mitali Mukherjee start grandly quizzing TCS, Infosys or Wipro managers on ESOPs?

# What signal do editors across the country receive when the Press Council, Editors’ Guild and other bodies remain silent when media corporations treat employees and their lives with such abandon?

# What signal do media houses send of their concern for a free, fair and responsible press if HR staff behave in an irresponsible manner and attack professional, independent minded journalists?

# What signal does a global brand like Forbes, or other foreign media houses, receive of the seriousness of their Indian partners to play by the book and observe the rules?

# And finally what signal does Mukesh Ambani’s RIL, which is now in the media in a big way, send of the seriousness of corporates to preserve the core values of the media?

Also read: What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-TV18-ETV deal

Finally, some critical coverage of the Reliance-Network18/TV18-ETV deal in the business media.

Mint, the business newspaper from the Hindustan Times stable, has a story in today’s issue that the stock market regulator, SEBI, is looking into RIL’s financial statements and reports to see if the company had divulged its holding or investment in ETV before the matter became public.

RIL revealed in 2011 in response to a petition filed by the late Andhra Pradesh chief minsiter Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy‘s widow, Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, that it had put in money into Ushodaya Enterprises, ETV’s holding company, through Nimesh Kampani‘s JM Financial in 2008.

Vijayalakshmi had alleged (page 32 of petition) that RIL’s investment in Ushodaya was its way of saying thanks to the previous TDP government of Chandrababu Naidu, for wilfully surrendering Andhra Pradesh’s right over the discovery of gas in the Krishna-Godavari basin in favour of RIL.

Eenadu founder Ramoji Rao, an associate of Naidu, had been used by RIL as a “vehicle of the quid pro quo.”

Now, Mint quotes an unnamed “senior SEBI official” as saying:

“SEBI is looking into whether RIL has disclosed in any of its financial reports about its holding or acquisition of stakes in Eenadu Group to the shareholders. It is mandatory to disclose such information to the shareholders.”

A second unnamed source is quoted as saying:

“Prima facie, information about RIL’s holding in Eenadu Group is not disclosed anywhere specifically. As per the listing agreement norms, it should have been mandatorily disclosed. This amounts to possible violations of regulations.”

S.P. Tulsian, a stock market analyst who often appears on CNBC-TV18, is quoted as saying:

“I am surprised that RIL said in the Andhra Pradesh high court that the stake acquired by JM Financial in the ETV channels was on behalf of itself. I went through the balance sheet but did not find anything of this nature.”

Niraj Mansingka, an analyst at Edelweiss Securities Ltd, is quoted as saying:

“We believe the equity investment [by RIL in Eenadu group] may have been consummated recently as the same is not a part of RIL’s FY11 annual report.”

The question marks over RIL’s disclosure of its investment in ETV underline a quote from an unnamed “broadcast veteran” in an Outlook* magazine article:

“What Mukesh Ambani [of RIL] has tried to do is take his investment out of a bad asset into a viable asset and make a profit in the process.”

* Disclosures apply

Infographic: courtesy The Economic Times

Read the full article: Regulator looking into RIL-ETV deal

Also read: 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

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests, are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBN, The Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-trois, The Economic Times and The Indian Express, Outlook* and India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Eenadu‘s travails, the RSTV debate—with an honourable mention for sans serif in the third segment—flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

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Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t, not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The sudden rise of media mogul Mukesh Ambani

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