Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
New Delhi Television enjoyed the status of a front-runner in television journalism in India. A takeover bid of the company in August 2022, after 34 years of its launch in 1988, created considerable noise in media circle. The development indicated to unsuccessful business operation of the broadcaster. Journalism is categorized as a creative art, but management of news platforms seems to have turned out to be big business in contemporary times.
Being unable to keep an equilibrium between investment and expenses, promoters of New Delhi Television (NDTV), Pranoy Roy and Radhika Roy took loan from bank 15 years earlier during 2007. To clear up the bank loan amount they negotiated with a venture capital firm Vishvapradhan Commercial Private Limited (VCPL) for Rs 400 crore loan agreement without interest in 2009-10 and issued warrants for transfer of 29 percent of shares held by a promoter entity Radhika Roy Pranay Roy Holdings (RRPRH) invested in NDTV. It is reported in a section of media that VCPL was owned by an affiliate in Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries. VCPL was later taken over by Mahendra Nahata of HFCL Group.
Venture Capital firm VCPL did not choose to exercise its option to convert its warrents into equity shares of RRPRH during next 13 years period. VCPL was taken over by Goutam Adani Enterprises on August 23, 2022. Immediately VCPL under new management exercised its option to convert warrants and sent a notice to NDTV on August 24, 2022. While RRPR Holding owned 29.18 percent, Pranoy Roy and Radhika Roy directly hold 15.94 percent and 16.32 percent in NDTV by June 30, 2022. The acquisition aimed at VCPL achieving control of RRPR, by Adani Group.
Pranoy Roy and Radhika Roy, co-founders of NDTV belong to Kolkata. They met each other at Dehradun during the 1960s. Pranoy studied at Doon School and Rahdika was a student at Welham Girls School. Both of them went to London for higher studies. After marriage they settled at New Delhi. Pranoy studied for his doctorate in economics and taught at Delhi School of Economics. Radhika worked for media organizations.
In India, Doordarshan started colour satellite broadcasting in 1982 and expanded service throughout the country by setting-up low powered rely transmitters. Pranoy Roy, along with his friend Vinod Dua introduced themselves as television personalities through poll analysis, an attraction during elections. He launched his own television content production company New Delhi Television with his wife Radhika Roy and successfully produced and presented the international news digest The World This Week in Doordarshan between 1988 and 1995.
Pranoy Roy gained popularity among the urban educated audience for his low-noise style of anchoring. While Pranoy worked in front of the camera, Radhika engaged herself behind the camera to produce programmes. They were commissioned by Doordarshan for news-based programmes such as The News Hour and Good Morning India. In the meantime cable television took its roots through private channels and NDTV signed a contract with Rupert Murdoch’s ‘Star Plus’ to produce programmes. Two years later achieved a five-year deal with them to launch and run a complete news channel ‘Star News.
A long experience in content creation for television news from weekly The News This Week to 24-hour news channel ‘Star News’ enabled NDTV to launch ‘NDTV 24 x 7’ in English and ‘NDTV Bharat’ in Hindi during 2004. In a short period of time, ‘NDTV 24 x 7’ established itself as an elite English-language news channel for editorial excellence. News anchors including Barkha Dutta, Rajdeep Saradesai, Arnab Goswami worked for the channel and became popular voices. However, in the event of launching more new channels NDTV faced financial disturbance in business. NDTV was compelled to take loan, first from a bank and later a venture capital firm which they did not payback. It resulted in a take-over bid 15 years later in 2022.
Analysis of the case study in NDTVs’ corporate dealings raises a few fundamental questions about the media landscape in post-independence and post-pandemic India. First, the prevailing environment demands to define whether journalism is a creative art or a business. Journalism is independent or investor-dependent? If journalism is failing to sustain itself independently, is it working for the enrichment of democracy or inviting destructive forces to destabilize democracy?
Second, if a venture capital firm extended 400 crore rupees interest-free loan to NDTV for 10 years, in which manner the general public evaluate the dealings? In the event of disclosure of huge investments in the media platforms, does other television channels and newspaper establishments of the country adopt similar tactics to run their shows ? As peoples’ perspectives are constructed through news and opinion distributed by the media platforms, after witnessing such developments, is it not necessary to demand more transparency in business dealings of the media houses ?
Third, will the news agencies depend on the fiscal investment models forever, even after the availability of digital technologies, which can reduce production and distribution costs ? While a networked ecosystem offers enough opportunities for the news industry, is it fair to neglect popularisation of independent journalism? Civil societies in developed nations, particularly in United States are engineering campaigns against take-over bids by ‘hedge funds’ to safeguard the independence of the media. Since the legislative and judiciary in India have ethically kept themselves away from entering into media evaluation, it is the duty of the civil society to train themselves to build a few media watchdogs.
Media recorded enormous development during the post-independence period in our country and three decades of economic liberalization resulted in a surge in the number of media platforms, expansion of news consumers base and adoption of technological innovations in news gathering, processing and distribution systems. However, the core values of journalism such as independence, non-partisan attitude and people-centric values eroded. Should we blame the prevailing business model of the news industry for such a degradation?
The relevance of journalism is measured in terms of its influence in the transformation of public life. If Mahatma Gandhi’s advertisement-free ‘Harijan’ could take an active part to oppose the mighty British rule and serve as a catalyst for social and economic change, why such a model have been neglected in the Indian situation? Maybe, after the takeover of big media houses by industrialists and investors, an environment be created for rising of alternative journalism.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on August 26, 2022. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-264. It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Pinto, Viveat Susan. Adani to acquire 29% in NDTV, makes open offer for 26%. Business Standard (Bhubaneswar Edition). August 24, 2022
Pinto, Viveat Susan. Tempest finally rages. Business Standard (Bhubaneswar Edition). August 25, 2022
Pinto, Viveat Susan & Dev Chatterjee, Samie Modak. Need Sebi nod to transfer stakes to Adani, Says NDTV. Business Standard (Bhubaneswar Edition) August 26, 2022