PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Bangalore’s media circles are abuzz with rumours that Kannada Prabha, the struggling Kannada newspaper owned by the New Indian Express group, is being eyed by the Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who also owns the 24×7 Kannada news channel Suvarna News.
Obviously, there are no confirmations or denials of the rumoured deal from either side, but well placed sources say a “strategic investment” is on the way from the cash-flushed former BPL Mobile scion—No. 37 on the India Today powerlist—who has been aiming to expand his print presence in the Kannada media.
Sources in Madras, however, hint at a full-stake sale, rumoured to be in the region of Rs 100 crore.
Those in the know claim a change in the imprint line of the 52-year-old Kannada Prabha could appear as early as April 1, but then it could all turn out to be an April Fool’s joke considering that such rumours have emerged (and died peacefully) several times before.
To be sure, though, Chandrasekhar, 45—who made his pile first in 2005 when he sold BPL mobile after a fallout with his father-in-law and then in 2008 when he sold a majority stake in the Malayalam channel Asianet to Rupert Murdoch—has been looking for print acquisitions in Karnataka and Kerala for a while now.
In 2007, he toyed around with Deccan Herald, till his offer was rebuffed. He revamped the Suvarna News channel largely with print staff who had hopped over from Kannada Prabha. A new paper with the working title Suvarna Prabha/ Suvarna Karnataka, was on the anvil, till word of a Kannada Prabha buyout broke.
The deal, if it comes through, will be a win-win for both Chandrasekhar and Express bossman Manoj Kumar Sonthalia.
For the former, it will mean one competitor less, a ready network and infrastructure, and a known brand of long vintage but somewhat questionable potential. For the latter, it will mean not having to bleed further in pushing an also-ran product, which has never had a chance, caught as it has been in the crossfire between the Times of India-owned Vijaya Karnataka and Deccan Herald-owned Praja Vani.
The Times of India shut down its translated Kannada language edition ten days ago.
However, both the New Indian Express and Kannada Prabha are published by same holding company, Express Publications (Madurai) Limited, and it is unclear whether Sonthalia has attracted Chandrasekhar’s bulging wallet only in Kannada Prabha or in the English paper as well.
However, there are some who aver that these rumours could just be “dirty tricks” by the Suvarna group—largely comprising ex-Kannada Prabha staffers—to rattle their alma mater. Nearly two dozen KP staffers have left the paper in recent months, many in anticipation of a new paper from the Suvarna stable.
Kannada Prabha was recently in the eye of a storm after it translated and republished a 2007 Taslima Nasrin essay without her permission. Two people lost their lives in the ensuing trouble.
Image: courtesy Rajeev Chandrasekhar