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ICICI and Reliance are involved in Money Laundering, 6500Cr frm Singapore

ICICI and Reliance are involved in Money Laundering, 6500Cr frm Singapore. Prashant Bhushan writes to SIT on Black Money.

Dated: July 08, 2014

To,

Shri M L Meena

(Joint Secretary)

Member Secretary

SIT on Black Money

Room No. 46, Dept of Revenue

Ministry of Finance, New Delhi

Dear Sir,

Sub: Complaint of huge money laundering and siphoning of Rs 6500 crores

I am writing this complaint to the SIT on black money constituted pursuant to the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. This complaint is regarding the huge money laundering and siphoning of money involving India’s biggest corporate group (RIL) and India’s largest private sector bank (ICICI) that the SIT ought to investigate and prosecute.

We all know that there have been two detailed CAG reports that Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) is involved in inflation of capital expenditure, over invoicing and siphoning of money from the KG Basin D6 Block. There is a clear suspicion that such amounts are being laundered and funneled back into Reliance companies.

In this light, an alarming letter was written by the Indian High Commission in Singapore on 31st August 2011. The High Commission had stated that Rs 6530 crores have come into India from Bio Metrix Marketing Ltd., a one room company in Singapore that does not do any business. It was pointed out that this is a company with no assets, no equity and does not file an income tax returns in Singapore claiming to be a small company. Yet, this huge investment by this company of Rs 6530 crores is the single biggest FDI into India from Singapore.

The High Commission had stated that all this money has gone into Reliance group of companies in India with the major chunk going to RelianceGas Transportation Infrastructure Ltd which is a company 100% owned by Mr. Mukesh Ambani personally. A copy of the letter sent by the Indian High Commission in Singapore is annexed as Annexure A.

The Commission had pointed out that one Mr. Atul Shanti Kumar Dayal effectively owns this company Bio Metrix. Mr. Dayal is nothing but a front for Reliance since he is a Director in 32 Reliance group companies. Profile of Mr. Dayal is annexed as Annexure B. Now it has come to light that this company BioMetrix has closed down (Annexure C).

Thus it became absolutely clear that Reliance is laundering its ill-gotten profits from KG Basin through Singapore and depositing the same into accounts of Mr. Mukesh Ambani.

On 27th February, I had released to the media the above referred letter written by the Indian High Commission in Singapore. Pursuant to the press conference held by me, Reliance immediately went on the defensive and issued a press statement.

According to several media reports, Reliance stated: “These investments in the Indian companies were made by Biometrix out of loans raised from ICICI Bank, Singapore branch.” The ICICI bank did not issue any denial to the press statement issued by Reliance.

This Reliance statement raises more questions than it answers. The ICICI bank had given a loan of thousands of crores to a company with no equity, no assets and no business. What was the collateral or security taken by the ICICI bank before issuing such a huge loan? What was the due diligence done by the ICICI bank before issuing this loan?

The bank does not give any small loan to an ordinary person, even for purchasing a car or house, without proper security and documentation. But who sanctioned the Rs 6530 crores of loan to this company with no business? Has the loan been returned by Biometrix to the ICICI bank? Now this company Biomentrix has closed down. So how will the bank recover this loan?

Under the international conventions on money laundering, the duty is put on the financial institutions to observe due diligence and transparency to prevent money laundering. It is also the duty of the Government to investigate all such transactions. The question therefore arises, was the ICICI bank an accomplice in the money laundering operation carried out by Reliance?

The Government of India has just sat over these facts for the about three years now. The Government has not bothered to investigate this case of money laundering perhaps because powerful entities like Reliance and ICICI bank are involved.

Therefore, I request you to investigate this case thoroughly. Kindly acknowledge the receipt of this letter and inform me the action the SIT would take in this matter.

I would also like to meet the SIT personally to make my suggestions about what needs to be done to deal with the issue of illicit and laundered money. I had earlier on 23rd Jule 2014 sent a letter to the Prime Minister, a copy of which was also sent to the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of the SIT.

Yours sincerely,

Prashant Bhushan

Copy to:

1. Justice M. B. Shah

Chairperson, SIT

2. Justice Arijit Pasayat

Vice Chairperson, SIT

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Reliance – Kokilaben hospital in the dock over cut practice #medicalethics

 

Blames overzealous marketing dept; Med council for BMC probe

kokila Santosh Andhale & Somita Pal @dna

Mumbai: Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital (KDAH) has apologised to the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC) for offering incentives to doctors referring patients to the hospital. The hospital attributed it to the ‘over-enthusiasm’ of the marketing department and assured restraint in future. The cut offered to doctors ranged between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh.

The hospital’s apology follows a show-cause notice by the medical council in May.

The MMC has now asked the BMC to take action against the hospital.

Since MMC is a quasi-judicial body overseeing the functioning of doctors practising modern medicine, it can act only against doctors and not against hospitals. That’s why it has asked BMC to move against the hospital.

The MMC alleged the hospital has been sending entry forms, titled Elite Forum, to various doctors.

“We had received the form from two doctors… it shows rewards for admissions. This indicates doctors are offered a cut for referring patients to the hospital,” MMC president Dr Kishor Taori said.

The two-page Elite Forum form promises a “reward” of Rs1 lakh for 40 admissions per annum, Rs1.5 lakh for 50 admissions and Rs2.5 lakh for 75 admissions.

Doctors have to sign and stamp a statement in the form that reads: “I am very happy to know that KDAH has introduced an ELITE FORUM for membership by invitation to senior doctors, for partnering KDAH, and jointly help bring about unique patient experience in line with the best of global hospitals.”

In its letter to the BMC, the MMC has sent its findings. “MMC can take action only against doctors as doctors are registered with us. In this case, since the hospital is guilty, we have asked BMC to look into the matter. It is the first of its kind case for both MMC and BMC…”

“Cut practice is very dangerous and spoils doctor-patient relationship. MMC is trying to improve this relationship,” said Taori.

dna has copies of the Elite Forum, the MMC letter to BMC and also KDAH’s apology.

The cut practice issue shot into the public domain after Dr H S Bawaskar filed a complaint with the MMC against a private diagnostic laboratory. Bawaskar, based in Mahad had asked one patient to undergo a CT scan last year. The patient underwent the scan at a private diagnostic laboratory in Pune. After the test, the laboratory sent a cheque worth Rs1,200 to Bawaskar. When Bawaskar contacted the lab, he was told the cheque was his professional fee.

Bawaskar then exposed the incident in a medical journal.

Read mor where – http://epaper.dnaindia.com/story.aspx?edorsup=Sup&ed_code=820009&ed_page=3&boxid=38970&id=66509&ed_date=06/25/2014

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Reliance Takeover of Network18 – What Future for the Media in India

What Future for the Media in India?

Vol – XLIX No. 24, June 14, 2014 | Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

India’s largest company now controls India’s largest media conglomerate. India’s media could therefore well be perceived to henceforth be a little less independent or, for that matter, trustworthy.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta ([email protected] ) is an independent journalist and educator.
The decision by Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) to wrest full managerial and editorial control over the Network18 group was not unexpected given the fact that two and half years ago, RIL, the country’s biggest privately-owned company, had invested heavily in Network18, India’s biggest media organisation after its virtual amalgamation with the Eenadu group. The country’s richest man, Mukesh D Ambani, is now, formally, also India’s biggest media baron. However, what took some by surprise was the speed with which the core team led by the Network18 group’s principal promoter Raghav Bahl quit – rather, was ousted – within a fortnight of the declaration of the results of the general elections on 16 May.
Rationale
The Reliance group seeks to explain its decision to take over the Network18 group as a move driven by synergy since it intends becoming a major participant in the fourth-generation (4G) high-speed data transfer business, at a time when technological convergence has blurred the distinction between telecommunications and broadcasting. At the same time, what Reliance has achieved by becoming the biggest player in India’s mass media industry is that it has enhanced its ability to influence public opinion through the media, thereby also strengthening its hold over the working of the country’s political economy. At present, the Network18 group is the largest media conglomerate in India, bigger than the Bennett Coleman/Times group and the STAR group which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
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.
On 30 May, an announcement was made by RIL to the Bombay Stock Exchange that the company’s board of directors had approved an additional investment of Rs 4,000 crore in an entity named Independent Media Trust (IMT) to acquire the properties of the Network18 group. Within days, those associated with Bahl, including his wife Ritu Kapur, his sister Vandana Malik and his close confidantes, including chief executive officer B Sai Kumar, chief operating officer Ajay Chacko and chief financial officer RDS Bawa, had put in their  papers.
As Bahl and Ritu Kapur ended their “entrepreneurial leadership”, they welcomed Mukesh Ambani and RIL as the “potential owners of Network18” and assured employees

Believe us, the group (Network18) is in terrific hands. Mr Ambani is a visionary and a truly good human being. And, we have no doubt Network18 will soar into the ‘cloud’ under this dispensation. All of you have very good cause to be excited and optimistic about the future…God bless you and God bless Network18.

Acquisition Process
The story of RIL acquiring control over Network18 began in late 2011. Network18 had a consolidated debt of nearly Rs 1,400 crore on its books at the end of the year and was looking for a “white knight” to bail it out. Bahl was not alone in this regard. Promoters of a number of major media groups, including Aroon Purie (of the Living Media group) and Prannoy Roy (of New Delhi Television), were desperately looking for investors in the wake of the worldwide recession and the economic slowdown in India that brought about a squeeze in expenditures on advertising and marketing services, the proverbial “financial oxygen” of commercially-run media companies. What compounded the crunch for “traditional” media organisations and completely disrupted their business models was the rapid spread of the internet that made (and continues to make) increasingly large volumes of media content almost “free” to those with a computer and internet connectivity.
It was against this backdrop that in January 2012, RIL announced that it was entering into a complex, multi-layered financial arrangement that involved selling its interests in the Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh-based Eenadu group founded by Ramoji Rao to the Network18 group and also funding the last-named group through a rights issue of shares. Television18 – a company in the Network18 group – stated that its board of directors had approved an outlay of up to Rs 2,100 crore for the proposed acquisition of the Eenadu group’s television assets through IMT which would fund the acquisition of shares in Network18 and TV18 through rights issues. The two entities went on to raise approximately Rs 4,000 crore, including Rs 1,700 crore from its promoters. (For a detailed analysis of this arrangement, see “Corporatisation of the Media” EPW, 18 February, 2012, by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Subi Chaturvedi)
RIL had earlier acknowledged in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh that its investments in Ushodaya Enterprises, the holding company of the Eenadu group promoted by Ramoji Rao who is credited with playing an important role in the rise of the late N T Rama Rao as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and thereafter, his son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu. A petition had been filed in the court by the widow of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister belonging to the Congress, the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, Y S Vijayalakshmi (who was then a member of the state legislative assembly). The petition had alleged that RIL had bailed out Ramoji Rao when his family-owned chit fund, Margadarsi, was in trouble and facing various inquiries (from, among others, the Reserve Bank of India).
Outlook (16 January 2012) suggested: “RIL bailed out ETV (Eenadu TV) after a deal between Ushodaya and private equity investor Blackstone was scuppered by the then Andhra CM YSR. Investment banker Nimesh Kampani of JM Financial then pumped in Rs 2,600 crore (he was hounded by YSR for his efforts). In 2008, ETV was transferred to RIL”.
RIL denied these allegations in court. However, its association with the Eenadu group raised quite a few questions. Financial analysts wondered whether the deal entailed RIL buying back its own assets, thereby raising issues of corporate governance and incomplete disclosure of information to shareholders. All these questions and doubts have today been relegated to the history books. Political equations have changed in the now-bifurcated Andhra Pradesh with Naidu back in power and RIL taking full control over both the Network18 and the Eenadu groups.
The January 2012 deal provided for RIL to get preferential access to the content as well as the distribution assets of both media groups. RIL had stated then that Infotel (now a part of Reliance Jio) was “setting up a pan-India world class fourth generation broadband network using state-of-the art technologies… to take leadership position in content distribution through broadband technology through a host of devices”. RIL added that it would access digital content on “entertainment, news, sports, music, weather, education and other genres” from Network18 and that this was “one of many” partnerships being undertaken by the company.
Even at that time, the Reliance group had sought to assuage apprehensions that RIL’s association with Network18 would exert an influence on the latter’s editorial policies. Identical statements issued by both groups stated that funding from RIL would not alter promoter, management or editorial control of Network18 entities. In its media release, RIL had stated: “…Bahl and his team will continue to have full operational and management control of both the companies…Bahl and the current promoter entities of Network18 and TV18 will continue to retain control over Network 18 and TV18…”
It is now clear that the real boss of the Network18 is no longer Bahl but Mukesh Ambani.
In May 2012, the Competition Commission of India had made it apparent that the zero coupon optionally convertible debentures issued to facilitate the deal could be converted into equity shares at any point of time within a period of 10 years which would result in RIL and entities owned and controlled by it acquiring over 99.9% of the shareholding in companies in the Network18 group.
Network 18 and Eenadu Empires
The Network18 group owns television channels such as CNBC-TV18, CNN-IBN, CNBC Awaaz, IBN7, IBN Lokmat and Colors, websites like Moneycontrol.com, Firstpost.com, In.com, IBNLive.Com, Cricketnext.in, Bookmyshow.com and Homeshop18 (a television cum internet venture), besides printed magazines such as Forbes India and Overdrive, among other media and non-media properties. Many of these dominate their respective market segments, in particular, the segments providing news about shares and other financial instruments as well as the activities of corporate entities.
Eenadu is the most widely-circulated newspaper in the Telugu language. The Eenadu group runs both news and general entertainment television channels in Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Odisha, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in various languages including Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Odia, Gujarati and Urdu. (Over and above the media, the group headed by Ramoji Rao has interests in chit funds, processed foods, besides the production and distribution of feature films.)
In short, the media conglomerate which is now owned and controlled by the Reliance group will have its footprint spread not only across the length and breadth of the country, but also across different genres of news and entertainment. As RIL itself stated in its 30 May official statement: “The acquisition (of the Network18 group) will differentiate Reliance’s 4G (fourth-generation telecommunications and high-speed data transfer) business by providing a unique amalgamation at the intersection of telecom, web and digital commerce via a suite of premier digital properties”.
Complex Deals in TV18
Over the years, as Bahl expanded his business operations, the journalist in him took a backseat. (In the interest of transparency, it is being disclosed here that the writer of this article was employed by the Television18 group as features editor and anchor between October 1995 and March 2001 and thereafter, was a consultant with the group till December 2001.)  In more ways than one, his corporate conglomerate started resembling the business empire founded by the late Dhirubhai Ambani in terms of its structure. Like the Reliance group, the Network18 group set up dozens of companies, including some in tax havens like Mauritius, with complicated cross-holdings of shares.
Like the Ambanis, Bahl and his associates struck multi-layered deals that often concealed more than what was revealed. Closely-held companies were used for this purpose.  For instance, IMT subscribed to debentures in RB Mediasoft Pvt Ltd, RRB Mediasoft Pvt Ltd, RB Media Holdings Pvt Ltd, Aventure Marketing Pvt Ltd, Watermark Infratech Pvt Ltd and Colorful Media Pvt Ltd, all of which were controlled by Bahl.
As Rahul Bhatia, who writes for Caravan monthly and who has examined the balance sheets of Network18 group companies, pointed out in the magazine’s website on 3 June:

…the operations and balance sheets of these companies merged and detached often, allowing the company’s management to value assets in ways that were lawful but nonetheless confounding to outsiders… One feature of these exercises was the convoluted issuing of equity: a large restructuring in 2011 left small investors furious, and analysts wondered how the company had allocated debt during an earnings call…. Other vagaries of accounting were apparent in the footnotes of the company’s public documents. For instance, it acknowledged hiding losses over Rs 650 crore in a footnote on page 82 of its 2013 annual report, using a method that, accountants told me, would give them pause…

Bhatia added that certain corporate entities controlled by Bahl loaned large sums to a trust that purchased Network18’s shares in questionable transactions. He wrote:

Capital flowed between his public companies and private companies in tax havens, disappearing and appearing in the fine print of these companies’ financial reports. The transactions his companies undertook were so many, and so complicated…

Well before the results of the elections were known, Bahl had openly supported Narendra Modi’s candidature as prime minister. In April 2013, the then head of Network18 had personally anchored a “Think India Dialogue” featuring Modi. On that occasion, the then chief minister of Gujarat had made a few sarcastic comments about the Planning Commission’s financial support to tiger conservation projects, alluding to Network18’s rival group, NDTV. This is a verbatim account of what Modi said during his public conversation with Bahl:

Planning Commission mein charcha hui, …Tiger ke liye 200 crore rupaiye diye, bharat sarkar ne diye.  Shayad woh NDTV usise chalta hai. Mujhe pata nahin…” (There was a discussion in the Planning Commission on tiger conservation. The government has allotted Rs 200 crore for this. I don’t know if NDTV also runs on this money.)

Modi  then went on to wonder if the Planning Commission thought tigers were secular and lions (which Gujarat has in sizeable numbers) were communal, to general mirth among those assembled in the audience. Sources in NDTV have told this writer that its “Save the Tiger” campaign on its television channel was sponsored entirely by private companies and no money was received from any government agency.
After Reliance invested in Network18, the group downsized drastically. In August 2013 alone, the group summarily sacked over 350 employees in a matter of less than a week. In the past too, the group had asked many of its employees to resign because its expansion plans failed to fructify. Over the last year or thereabouts, the finances of most companies in the group had shown distinct signs of improvement, with debt on the decline and profitability on the rise. But that did not stop Mukesh Ambani from stepping in to take full charge of the media group’s operations with his trusted confidantes.
After the Elections
As the elections were taking place, there was considerable speculation about the future of certain prominent anchors on television channels owned by the group. When the outcome of the elections were known on 16 May and it became clear that Modi would become prime minister and the Aam Aadmi Party (which had publicly criticised Reliance and Mukesh Ambani) would not have even a handful of MPs in the Lok Sabha, rumours about the imminent takeover of Network18 intensified. As subsequent events indicated, the speculation was indeed based on fact.
Was RIL’s formal takeover of Network18 a “hostile” one, as certain reports have suggested? Perhaps, in a strict sense of the term. But many would argue that Bahl should have read the writing on the wall, that what took place should have been anticipated by him.
As for the Independent Media Trust, its existence is now truly redundant in the new scheme of things. As an editorial in the thehoot.org website, which tracks the media, put it on 31 May: “Whoever thought up the name had a delicious sense of irony”.
For, from now onwards, a large section of the media in India could well be perceived to be a little less independent or, for that matter, trustworthy.

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Prashant Bhushan calls Narendra Modi, a Reliance puppet

Ritika Chopra, ET Bureau Jan 9, 2014, 05.00AM IST

NEW DELHI: Prashant Bhushan has described the BJP‘s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, a “puppet in the hands of Reliance (Industries) ” and said that his party will take Modi head on in the Lok Sabha polls in April and May this year.

The AAP has refrained from articulating its stand on the BJPleader or Gujarat‘s governance, except for allegations made a year earlier that the Gujarat CM is favouring Adani Groupfor supplying electricity, even as cheaper power tariffs were offered by the state-owned Gujarat Mineral DevelopmentCorp. But, with the party setting its eyes on the Lok Sabha elections, this would change Bhushan, a member of AAP’s Political Advisory Committee (PAC) told ET.

“His (Modi’s) talk on corruption is bogus. We (the AAP) consider him to represent the same kind of corrupt politics that we have seen in this country and have already exposed his corruption in the Adani case. And why is Modi silent on the gas pricing dispute which is one of the biggest scams today? If you listen to the Radia tapes you’ll see that the BJP leadership is nothing but a puppet in the hands of Reliance and Modi is part of this corruption,” he said, referring to the conversation between Rajya Sabha member of the Janata Dal-United (BJP’s ally at that point) NK Singh and Niira Radia on getting BJP to replace Arun Shourie as the lead speaker in the Upper House to change the course of the discussion on gas pricing in July 2009 in favour of RIL.

Yogendra Yadav, widely regarded as the new party’s chief strategist, echoed Bhushan’s views on Modi, though his tone was softer. “It’s not a question on whether we will raise Modi’s corrupt practices because we have already done it. We were the first one to talk about it when we raised the Adani issue.

As and when the need arises, we will talk about it again”. Alleged snooping by Gujarat government agencies would also be brought to the fore during the election campaign, Bhushan said.

“He used the state’s security agencies to snoop on innocent people and destroy the career of honest officers like Pradeep Sharma. Amit Shah, a man with murder charges against him is his lieutenant. He didn’t allow the Lokayukta to be formed in Gujarat.

Closer to the Lok Sabha elections, we will raise these issues and tell everyone what we think about Modi,” the activist lawyer said. After the Delhi assembly elections, AAP has seen its membership in the western state increase to around one lakh from 6,000 members.

Apart from BJP MLA and social activist Kanu Kalsariya, senior academicians, and former bureaucrats, among others, have joined the party in the state in recent times. Gujarat, according to Bhushan, is one of the states AAP expects to do well in the upcoming polls. Bhushan has been an old antagonist of the RIL, having filing a PIL in the 1990s against the award of the Mukta-Panna oil and gas fields. RIL has two industrial complexes at Hariza and Jamnagar in Gujarat.

 

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Arnab Goswami slams Mukesh Ambani on NewsHour for #AstonMartin crash, coverup!!!

 
 It was like any other NewsHour panel discussion except that Arnab Goswami appeared a little graver than usual.
“GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO THE NEWSHOUR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!,”
Arnab’s voice boomed.
“The top story tonight: It’s been over two weeks since a speeding Aston Matrin, registered in the name of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Ports and Terminals, rammed into multiple vehicles, leading to injuries. There are many questions but few answers. Who was the man behind the wheels? Why is the media pussyfooting on the issue?”
Arnab then introduced the panelists.
“Joining me tonight to discuss this fishy incident and the troubling issues it raises, Sanjay Jha from Congress, Meenakshi Lekhi from BJP, Arthi Jayarath and….”
Arnab paused and raised his pitch,
“MR. MUKESH AMBANI HIMSELF JOINING US FROM ANTILLA.”
Mukesh smiled nervously and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had the look of a man being led to the guillotine.
“My first question to you Mr.Ambani, is there a cover up?”
“All..Allow me to explain, Arnab,” Mukesh muttered. “Already, a 55 year old man, Mr. Bansilal Joshi, a driver with my company, has presented himself before the police and admitted to being behind the wheels. I think the matter should end there.”
“No, the matter doesn’t end there, Mr.Ambani,” Arnab cut in. “Eyewitnesses say a young man was seen jumping out of the car. I quote here “a young, clean-shaven, portly man was seen hopping out of the damaged Aston Martin into two SUVs trailing the Aston Martin.” The man who presented himself to the police on the other hand was mustached and over 50 years old. Please explain, Mr Ambani.”
Mukesh now appeared flustered. Meenakshi Lekhi and Jha looked on, aghast. After all, Ambani was the boss of their respective bosses.
Sanjay Jha jumped in to minimize the damage.
“Two quick points, Arnab. One, the accident, unfortunate as it may have been, lead to some injuries but it still pales before the horrific genocide of 2002 for which Mr. Modi has a lot to …”
“Are you on Mr Ambani’s payrolls too, Mr Jha? Then why are you changing the subject?”
Arnab interjected. Jha was taken aback but quickly recovered.
“I will and will always remain a loyal Congressmen led by Rahul Gandhi who is a breath of fresh air in this…”
“Don’t change the topic, Mr. Jha. For two weeks this incident has been dragging on. MR. AMBANI, WAS YOUR SON IN THAT ASTON MARTIN?”
Mukesh was close to tears now. No one had spoken to him like this ever.
“I ..I…don’t know what to say. All I know is a driver from my company has owned up to..” he began.
“You cannot get away so easily, Mr. Mukesh Ambani. Other news channels may not have the balls to cover this since it involves Mr. Ambani but not your favourite news channel, NewsHour. AND TONIGHT THE NATION WANTS TO KNOW…”
Arnab got up, sweating.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Mrs. Arnab asked. “Looks like you had a nightmare.”
“Yes. Absolutely horrid. Would you believe it? In my dream, I was interrogating Mukesh Ambani. The very thought of it gives me the shivers,”
Arnab squeaked, reaching for a glass of water to settle himself.
“Oh dear,” his wife said. “You’ve been putting in too many hours on NewsHour, darling.But yeah, you dreaming of doing a ‘dented and painted’ operation on the big man beggars belief. Are you sure that’s what you dreamt?”
“Yes,” replied Arnab. “Unless this also is dream. Wait a minute. This could be a dream….”
Mukesh Ambani woke with a start. It was 3 AM. From his 15th floor room in Antilla, the entire stretch of South Mumbai was visible; its apartments appearing like pieces from a Lego set. Mukesh cursed himself and made a mental note to himself not to watch NewsHour before going to sleep.
(The Unreal Times – Satire)

 

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Reliance – Ambani #Astonmartin Crash – Driver ID surprise

OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, Telegraph

Mumbai, Dec. 25: A prime witness has identified the driver of a Reliance-owned Aston Martin that was involved in a pile-up early this month as 55-year-old company chauffeur Bansilal Joshi rather than a “clean-shaven young man” who fled the scene.

Foram Ruparel, 25, an MBA student whose Audi was hit during the December 8 incident, identified Joshi as the man behind the Aston Martin’s wheel in a statement recorded by a magistrate yesterday, police officers who requested not to be identified said.

Eyewitnesses including Ruparel had earlier claimed to have spotted “a clean-shaven young man who did not look like a chauffeur” get off the Aston Martin and flee the scene in one of two Honda CRVs following it, media reports quoting police sources had earlier said.

But the day after the 1.30am pile-up on Peddar Road, the middle-aged Joshi turned up at Gamdevi police station and claimed he had been driving the Aston Martin, police sources have said.

It was not clear whether Ruparel identified Joshi in person or from a photograph yesterday, or, if neither, whether the MBA student mentioned Joshi by name, or, in that case, how she came to know his name.

Joint commissioner of police (crime) Himanshu Roy and deputy commissioner Nisar Tamboli did not respond to this newspaper’s calls or text messages.

The police had not arrested Joshi — who police sources said weighs around 100kg — after his December 9 statement, saying they were not sure that he matched the description Ruparel had provided. Officers also said that CCTV footage from the accident site had been inconclusive.

A PTI report quoted an unnamed senior police officer as saying today: “Since the victim (Ruparel), who was earlier confused and changing her statements, has now identified Joshi as the driver, we would arrest him. The mystery as to who was driving the luxury car ends with the complainant identifying Joshi.”

The PTI report quoted police sources as saying that Joshi had been with the Ambani family for several years and usually drove Akash, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani’s son.

According to the agency report, Joshi had told the police he had been asked to drive Akash on December 8 morning, and decided to test the car in the early hours. He was returning from Marine Drive when the accident took place.

Police sources said they were waiting for Joshi’s fingerprint report and would match it with the fingerprints on the steering of the Aston Martin, which was seized after the accident.

Reliance Ports, which owns the Aston Martin, has said the company would compensate Ruparel and Vikram Mishra, a pharmaceutical firm employee whose car too was damaged in the pile-up. The amount has not been revealed.

“Both would be paid a compensation,” a company source said.

Ruparel was driving her Audi, with three friends in the car, when the Aston Martin allegedly rammed it from behind. The impact caused the Audi to jump over the road divider and hit a luxury bus coming from the opposite direction.

The right front wheel of the Aston Martin came off and hit Mishra’s Hyundai Elantra. Nobody was injured in the pile-up.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1131226/jsp/nation/story_17721425.jsp#.Urvjm_QW3lw

MUST READ- Aston martin crash – no compensation from reliance

 

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Mukesh Ambani’s son allegedly kills 2 in a car accident. Media blacks out the news #WTFnews

http://www.kractivist.org/reliance-ashton-martin-crash-open-letter-to-justice-markandey-katju-press-council-of-india/
Is Mukesh Ambani and family above the law? His son, Akash Ambani, allegedly kills two with his Aston Martin car running over them fully drunk. Arnab Goswami; Rajdeep Sardesi and Barkha Dutt shamelessly blanks out news! How can they when their boss’s son is allegedly involved? Neither is Kejriwal’s AAP or Anna’s India Against Corruption raking up the issue. Or for that fact, the Congress, the BJP or another political party in the country.
Zee News and DNA carried the news but it was deleted later but Google Search still carries their headlines and readers comments.  A Reliance employee now media reports apparently paid to own up the accident.
“A Reliance spokesman said a chauffeur was at the wheel and that the car was on a routine maintenance spin early on Sunday as it had not been used the previous day.. But one of the occupants of a car hit by the speeding Aston Martin told Mirror that she saw a young man in the driving seat and that he didn’t look like a chauffeur.. Bansilal Joshi, 55, a Reliance driver, presented himself at the Gamdevi police station,nearly 12 hours after the accident that left two other cars — an Audi and a Hyundai Elantra — badly smashed and eight people injured. He claimed responsibility for the crash..”
TV 9: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeLHIk6knAY
Mukesh Ambani might own the mass media but he doesn’t own social media.Join the campaign. Retweet and republish this news. Force mass media to carry the news and seek justice for the victims.
(Arunbha Sakia in Newslaundry) An Aston Martin Rapide – “a four-door high-performance sport saloon” -rammed into two cars late Saturday night, December 7, 2013 at Peddar Road in Mumbai, transforming itself from a Rs 3.5 crore-worth luxury sports car into ugly metal scrap. What has followed since has ranged from subtle innuendos to outright allegations against some of the most powerful and rich of Mumbai – and India.
A black Aston Martin Rapide (MH-O1-BK99) – driven at a very high speed according to eyewitnesses – rammed into an Audi (MH14-DN-6666) from behind as reported here. As a result of the impact, the Audi, driven by Foram Ruparel, a resident of Ghatkopar area, jumped the divider on the road and hit a private bus coming from the opposite direction. The Aston Martin, then hit a Hyundai Elantra belonging to Vikram Mishra. In the ensuing chaos, the driver of the Aston Martin managed to flee in one of the two SUVs which were trailing it. A hit-and-run case like this is pretty routine nowadays in Delhi and Mumbai. However, what is not routine – and has been very conveniently overlooked by many in the media – was the fact that the Aston Martin was registered in the name of Reliance Ports and Terminals Limited which is owned by Mukesh Ambani.
Foram Ruparel, who was driving the Audi, lodged a complaint. Bansilal Joshi, 55, a driver employed with Reliance, presented himself at the Gamdevi police station on Sunday afternoon – December 8, 2013 – and accepted responsibility for the accident. This was almost 12 hours after the accident. However, as word spread, witnesses have started popping up with their version of events. A version of events, which makes this entire episode seem uncannily similar to the plot of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger where the protagonist, Balram, who works as a driver for a rich family, is made to own up to a very similar car accident his boss’s wife is involved in.
One of the occupants of a car hit by the speeding Aston Martin was quoted by Mumbai Mirror – one of the very few media outlets to have covered the story in detail – as saying that she saw a young man in the driver’s seat. Another witness, not willing to be named, told Newslaundry that the person helped out of the Aston Martin after it finally came to a standstill

“was a young guy and not a moustached old man as everyone is being made to believe”.

In a telephonic conversation with Newslaundry, Varish Mishra, who was in the Elantra which was pulverised in the accident and which had a pregnant lady as one of its occupants said, “the Aston Martin continued to travel on three wheels for a long time and came to a halt more than 400 metres away from the original spot of accident, so you can imagine its speed”.
The media’s rather cautious and measured approach to the story, particularly in light of its aggressive coverage of other recent hit and run cases, is difficult not to notice. Hindustan Times’ report on the accident says that the driver worked for a “private firm” and never once mentions the car’s Reliance affiliation. The Times of India which published a story on December 9, 2013 with the headline –

“Reliance employee takes responsibility for accident involving Aston Martin” has removed the report from its website without any corrigendum. While Google still contains the link to the story, clicking on it leads to a dead link. On the evening on December 11, 2013, TOI published an edited version of the same report on its site without any mention of Reliance, choosing to call it “a national-level firm”.

We tried contacting TOI for an explanation for this editorial decision, but received no response. Times Now, which is based out of Mumbai, has totally ignored the story as well. DNA has also removed their news report on the incident.
We SMSed Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN on December 11, 2013 to ask why the channel had not yet reported on the incident. He informed us that they would be carrying the report that evening. The report was also carried on December 11, 2013 at 7.30pm on www.ibnlive.com. Reliance Group has investments in Network 18.
The facts as reported in the news are as follows. Reliance Industries has released a statement that the driver was out at 1.30 a.m. all by himself for a test run. The Aston Martin which was on a test drive, manned by a driver, was trailed by two SUVs – one of which whisked the driver away after the accident. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen a young, clean-shaven, portly man being helped out of the damaged Aston Martin. The man who presented himself in the police station is 55 years old and has a moustache. The only resemblance he has to the eyewitness’ description of the fleeing driver is his hefty build.
The Mumbai Police has been trying to gather forensic evidence – which will be a difficult task, considering more than five people handled the car after the accident – and hasn’t made any arrests. What is curious is that most media houses have chosen not to report on the incident and why the ones that did do so, have removed the reports since.
Dear Sir!,
This story of a Reliance Ashton Martin Rapide car crash appears to be a classic case study of confirming the PUCL assertion. Accordingly the Press Council has to institute an independent enquiry to ascertain into the reason why these articles have been deleted without a formal retraction by such media agencies viz. to determine what kind of pressures led to these deletion
– was it the inducement of money
– was it political pressure
– was it the effect of both – inducement of money and political pressure

 

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#India – Reliance and right-wing politics gain a foothold in Raghav Bahl’s media empire


The Network Effect

http://caravanmagazine.in/sites/default/files/imagecache/story_carousel/ap07081009040.jpg

By RAHUL BHATIA | December 1, 2013

GURINDER OSAN / AP PHOTO

Raghav Bahl and Mukesh Ambani in a CNBC-TV18 programme from 2007.

 

|ONE|

AS DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE FOOD SECURITY BILL played on displays around the room, Rajdeep Sardesai took a seat at the centre of a simmering news pit in Mumbai, looking like he could use a break. Just ten days earlier, on 16 August, CNN-IBN and IBN7, the channels he oversees as editor-in-chief of the IBN Network, had witnessed the sudden layoffs of approximately 300 producers, cameramen, and reporters. Sardesai’s base of operations, at the channels’ headquarters in Noida, had been the worst affected by the forced departures; there, reporters and anchors on air had completed their broadcast and stepped off to find they no longer had a job. The layoffs were part of a large restructuring exercise recommended by Mercer and Ernst & Young for TV18, which was part of the gargantuan Network18 group. The group’s employees were told that management wanted to integrate the processes of its expansive media empire, which included CNBC-TV18, the IBN channels,Forbes India magazine, the website Firstpost, and a host of other channels and outlets across television, print and the internet.

The night before the layoffs, I met a senior CNN-IBN employee at a dimly lit coffee shop in Bandra, Mumbai. This person was washed out by the retrenchments to come. Between phone calls, over cups of coffee not quite large enough, the employee laid out the stark operational plan for the next 24 hours. “HR plans to finish by tomorrow evening. They want to finish it in a day.”

The employee was reconciled to the job cuts, but wished they had been handled in a better way; Network18’s HR personnel had met in conference rooms to discuss these cuts in full view of the staff outside. “Tomorrow the HR person is going to tell them that the company is restructuring, and there’s going to be an integration of newsrooms,” the senior employee told me. To minimise the chances of backlash, the layoffs would all be communicated at one go. Over the course of our conversation, the person’s phone rang twice. Both callers wanted the same thing: information that would help them understand what was about to happen the next day. The group had been uncommunicative with most of its workforce (and would continue to be so for months afterward). The senior employee told me that a list of employees to be fired had been shown to editors; it was an indicative draft, but the heads of various departments began to quietly inform the people listed on it on their own. There seemed to be no recognisable pattern to the names. The company had marked for dismissal inexperienced rookies and old hands alike. Well-regarded reporters who had been with the group for some years were going, as was at least one person from the camera department on a salary below Rs. 10,000. “Reporters from IBN7 stopped coming to work because they were interviewing for other jobs,” the senior employee said.

Sardesai had last visited the Mumbai bureau in July, by which time the rumours were flying so thick they were impossible to ignore. “Rajdeep said that we had to be prepared for a restructuring,” a former producer recalled. But he also told them that good workers had no reason to worry. Elsewhere in the building, Ritu Kapur, the History TV18 programming head, who is married to Raghav Bahl, the founder and managing director of Network18, told the entertainment team that their concerns about impending layoffs were unwarranted. “Ritu said, ‘No, no! What are you saying?’” a person present recalled.

The deceptions grated on reporters, who felt they were owed the truth. Over the last eight years, Sardesai had fostered an atmosphere of openness; his employees had always been comfortable expressing strong opinions that differed from his. But in contrast with the company line—and her own —Kapur informed Rajeev Masand and Vanita Singh, two IBN editors, that over two-thirds of their reporters were going to be made redundant. “They were asked to say what each person brings to the table,” the senior employee said. Masand “spent hours on heated calls” to protect his team from being culled, the producer told me. Smitha Nair, the sharp, quick-talking Mumbai bureau chief, was “walking around red-eyed, in tears”, according to the producer. Among themselves, reporters began to call the coming day, 16 August, Black Friday.

A clamour grew within and outside the studios that Friday; staff leaked details of the resignations online, in real time. Across Network18, approximately 350 people were asked to resign in one day. Several programmes on CNBC were scrapped with immediate effect. In Mumbai, CNN-IBN’s bureau of five news reporters, already stretched thin, was reduced to three. At the end of the day, Sardesai wrote on his Twitter feed—otherwise a mix of programme previews and observations from his morning walks—“Hurt and pain can be lonely. You must grieve in solitude. Gnight.”

The layoffs at Network18 came at a time of enormous stress for Indian media. The exigencies of the market have caused advertisers to withdraw. Earlier this year, regulators proposed that each hour of television should contain only 12 minutes of advertising. There are prohibitive carriage fees made by television broadcasters to cable networks. Network18, for instance, paid Rs. 584 crore for distribution and marketing in 2012–13. “The weakening rupee has made dollar payments more expensive; for a group like Network18, with 15 foreign subsidiaries and a number of licensing agreements, fluctuating exchange rates can prove worrisome. In July, the Outlook Group decided to close three magazines, and laid off over 100 staff. Years of large losses at NDTV’s general, business, and lifestyle channels—reversed only this year—have resulted in a steady stream of retrenchments over the past four years.

Network18’s unique approach to brand-building made it especially vulnerable. The group presently has a market value of approximately $1.1 billion (as of 24 November this year), making it India’s third-biggest publicly listed media conglomerate. Tens of millions watch the group’s 27 national and regional television channels in at least 11 languages. A joint movie studio venture makes tentpoles—films whose success hold up several other ventures—as well as more realistic fare. It owns a large online retail company, event and sports management concerns, specialty magazines, news websites and a newswire, and produces, exhibits, and distributes its own content. It has—to state it mildly—considerable reach. But its biggest news properties were built on tie-ups with global giants: CNN, CNBC, Viacom, A+E Networks, Forbes, and Entrepreneur, among others. It had built its stellar reputation on aggressive and expensive strategies, such as the lavish campaigns that had helped launch the television channel Colors in 2008. It was the most glamorous possible proposition for anyone who had the spare change to buy into a media company of its size and stature—and this was in spite of the fact that its stability was precarious.

In January 2012, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), India’s second-largest publicly listed company, had announced it would invest a substantial sum in Network18. At the time, they looked like saviours: over two days, Network18 stock jumped 27 percent. The movement indicated a kind of euphoria, given that Network18’s share price had, at the time, fallen almost 95 percent from its 2007 highs. It had incurred over Rs. 800 crore in accumulated losses in 2011–2012—while the company said its losses were Rs. 191 crore ($30.45 million), had it not used a convenient accounting standard, its losses would have been Rs. 835 crore ($133.12 million). But Reliance’s investment was also disconcerting. A company with strong links to government and extraordinary interests in petrochemicals, refining, and telecommunications, had helped ease mounting debt at an influential news organisation that owned two business channels, a business website, and published the business magazine Forbes India. “I don’t think the group saw how it was going to be perceived,” a senior editor at Firstpost told me this October.

Thanks to Reliance’s investment, a rapidly expanding group deeply in debt and prone to frequent cost-cutting measures now had the one thing that had been in perennially short supply: security. For some employees down the chain, the investment seemed like a boon. “We felt a little good about a reliable company buying a stake,” a reporter who was later laid off told me. “We thought it would become more stable.” When I met Tushar Pania, a spokesperson for Reliance, at the company’s office in south Mumbai this September, he claimed that they had very little role in the retrenchments. “It’s not our intent to run the business,” he said. “We don’t know the media business. If we wanted to run Network18, we would have run it.”

Taking his place in the Mumbai newsroom that day in August, Sardesai bared his feelings to the people who remained. “I want to apologise,” he told them. “We feel bad about it. It’s heartbreaking.” Almost immediately, someone responded angrily. “A month ago we asked you about it. Why did you lie to us? Are you saying that you didn’t know a month ago?” Sardesai reasoned with her, saying, “Panic would have spread.” She disagreed: “No, instead people would have quit and looked for jobs.” Editors, reporters, and producers told me they were disturbed by the manner in which the sackings were conducted. In CNN-IBN’s camera department, “people were fired by the heads based on their friendship,” a producer said to me. “The camera heads told camera guys they were being fired based on reporter feedback. But forget reporters, they did not take any feedback even from the bureau chief.” Sardesai seemed to know of the mismanagement in this department, according to the producer, and was upset by it. Looking to his left, where the camera division staff were clustered, he pointed out, “If it was done unfairly, and there are slackers here, they will be pulled up for it.”

Even as Sardesai strove to mend fences, an observer said, he “looked defeated”. The decision to fire people had not been his to make, and yet, because the channel responded to his leadership, the episode had undermined him. Still, he did what he could, a senior editor told me. “Some people got six months’ salary.” The company eventually made severance payments amounting to Rs. 10.27 crore.

Nearly every person I spoke with was sympathetic to Sardesai. “At some level he hasn’t taken it well,” one employee present that day said to me later. Sardesai wrote them apologetic text messages that a couple of employees I met said they ignored.

In the newsroom, perhaps under strain, or perhaps in a moment of weakness, he disarmed the bureau with a confession of his helplessness. He told them that he would leave if he “was to face this again”. Sardesai explained to everyone in the newsroom that he had resisted pressure from management to reduce the channels’ payroll four years ago, when rising costs had induced similar layoffs elsewhere in the group. “This time we couldn’t resist, Sardesai said to the newsroom. “The business model had become too cumbersome.” He was asked why the channel had continued to hire for four years if they had been under pressure. “I agree,” the producer recalled him conceding. “We thought things would stabilise. It was poor management.”

“There’s some kind of obfuscation,” the senior employee told me. “I don’t know why someone didn’t just say, ‘we’re not doing well.’ The perception is that the company is doing well. It’s acquiring properties left, right and centre, so why are you firing what you know is a lean team? This is going to affect news gathering. A compromise on quantity is a compromise on quality.”

The changes taking place across the group’s publications had other, less visible consequences. Over three meetings at a coffee shop in central Mumbai in January this year, R Jagannathan, the editor-in-chief for web and print at Network18, and Indrajit Gupta, then editor-in-chief of Forbes India, discussed a possible integration between Forbes India and Firstpost, the network’s opinion site. Jagannathan believed that the 40-strong Forbes India team, which produced a fortnightly magazine, a quarterly, and also handled ForbesIndia.comshould produce less local content and instead help build the Firstpost brand. Gupta thought this would change the character of Forbes India, whose circulation, company press releases claimed, had reached 75,000 copies. In less than five years, the magazine had attained Rs. 25 crore in revenues on the back of in-depth Indian business reporting. At the end of each meeting, the two editors parted uneasily; multiple members of the Forbes Indiastaff told me that it became clear that unpleasant changes were on the way.

The next month, Jagannathan began to attend Forbes India’s edit meetings. During one such meeting at the end of February, he dismissed several ideas from the staff, and told the Forbes India team that they were “screwing up”, according to a person present there. Glancing at a sheet of paper he had arrived with, he yelled at the room, “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.” His hands shook as he read the prepared note. The person present there told me, “He was under so much pressure. It was clear he had arrived with a brief from someone. I suspect it was from Raghav.” Jagannathan did not respond to messages for comment.

|TWO |

ON 3 JANUARY 2012, TV18, the television arm of Network18, announced that its board, led by Bahl, had approved a sum of up to Rs. 2,100 crore to acquire the stake held by Reliance in Eenadu Television Network (ETV). ETV had regional muscle; the network was started in 1995 by Ramoji Rao, the influential Hyderabad tycoon whose media empire had expanded to include 12 popular entertainment and news channels in over seven states. If ETV’s regional reach was combined with the national reach of TV18, they would together command over 25 national and regional channels across news and general entertainment.

In a press release announcing the deal, Network18 was unrelenting in its optimism that the group had finally turned around. It insisted that authority would reside solely in the hands of Bahl and his management team. In addition, the board said that TV18 and Network18, which had a combined net worth of Rs. 1,643crore, would together raise Rs. 5,400 crore from the market, and use the gains to pay off all debt. If they weren’t able to raise enough, Bahl would buy up the shares that remained through his own private companies that controlled both Network18 and TV18, which are publicly listed firms. To do this, Bahl would receive funding from a body called Independent Media Trust. This trust had been set up for Reliance’s benefit.

Bahl brimmed with positivity in an earnings call with analysts later that day, telling everyone that he maintained “full undiluted control” over the Network18 group. The message was reasserted in stories that the group’s channels ran. CNN-IBN stated emphatically that, “Management and editorial control will continue to be held by TV18 promoters.” On the call, when analysts pressed him for details, Bahl turned them down. At the end, he dispatched them with a bright but vague message. The deal was “a landmark transaction” that gave the company a chance to begin afresh, and build on the limitless opportunities before it.

According to Reliance’s press statements, the partnership with Network18 would ensure a ready supply of content to the company when their ambitious plans for 4G network services finally took off. Bahl said Reliance saw it purely as an investment. He chose not to disclose that the investment had left his control over the business  in a far more perilous state than at any time in its 18-year history. In exchange for its funding, Network18’s promoter companies would issue convertible debentures—put simply, financial instruments backed by company assets that could be exchanged for regular shares—to Reliance. Effectively, this would make the group Reliance’s to control. This was explained lucidly in a Competition Commission of India order that approved the deal in May 2012, which pointed out that the acquisition of debentures had “the ultimate intended effect of RIL acquiring control over Network18 group”.

Over the next month, Bahl met the group’s editors in individual meetings to discuss the group’s benefactor. Indrajit Gupta told me Bahl asked for his opinion on handling stories about Reliance and media in Forbes India. “My feedback was very simple. We should continue to do stories on Reliance and media. He asked, ‘Do we really need to?’”

Reliance’s name provokes a certain kind of reaction among the media in India. The reaction, more often than not, is to proceed with caution. This prudence applies to stories about the company and its interests, as well as to its controlling family, the Ambanis, regarding whom every word that makes it into print is treated with unparalleled care. In early November, when a writer at the Economic Timesmistakenly captioned a photograph of Mukesh Ambani’s wife, Nita, with the name of his brother’s wife, Tina, the paper’s editors, in the words of a reporter present, “went crazy”.

In the early 1990s, long before Mukesh and Anil Ambani split their father’s legacy and went their separate ways in 2003, Dhirubhai Ambani’s Reliance had put out the Business and Political Observer,and its weekend companion, the Sunday Observer. The company’s relations with the press in the preceding years had not always been tranquil; in the 1980s, the Indian Express had doggedly pursued stories of the company’s irregularities and its mutually beneficial relationship with Indira Gandhi’s government. The Observer was “intended to put across their own point of view,” according to a former senior editor who worked there. “They would do slanted editorials, or slanted stories—part of it would be fact, and part of it would be puffed up.”

The Observer had a brief life, but Reliance’s shadow over the media grew long in the years to come. In a 2008 New York Times piece on Mukesh Ambani, the writer Anand Giridhardas wrote, “A prominent Indian editor, formerly of the Times of India, who requested anonymity because of concerns about upsetting Ambani, says Reliance maintains good relationships with newspaper owners; editors, in turn, fear investigating it too closely. ‘I don’t think anyone else comes close to it,’ the editor said of Reliance’s sway. ‘I don’t think anyone is able to work the system as they can’.”

In recent years, the company has begun to quietly acquire media outlets. As the Competition Commission order confirmed in plain terms, it had gained effective control of both Network18 and ETV without appearing to own the networks. In November, the journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta revealed on the media news and criticism website, The Hoot, that the Serious Fraud Investigation Office, an organisation under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, had accused Reliance of “having engineered a series of allegedly illegal transactions to control a company that controlled the NewsX television channel”. Big business has always been well-disposed to the idea of proactively controlling the message, but Reliance’s recent approach—that of controlling the medium—is a rather more elaborate precaution than Indian corporations have taken before. The spokesperson of a rival company, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed, “They now own the platforms where public opinion is.”

“You have to take a nuanced view,” Thakurta told me during an interview. “The vehicles of the Network18 group have reported news that has gone against Reliance. Will they break stories against them? I doubt it. Will they conduct investigations that work against the interests of Mukesh Ambani and the corporate conglomerate he heads? I doubt it. But then, that is to be expected.”

IN 2005, Bahl wrote a piece for an Outlook special issue titled ‘India Rising’. “The story of India’s television news,” he said, “is largely the story of three extraordinary companies, two super-skilled professional entrepreneurs, and an apprentice. The companies are NDTV, TV Today and TV18. The two super-men are Aroon Purie and Prannoy Roy. The apprentice is yours truly.”

Fifty-one year-old Raghav Bahl is a former management consultant who entered the media industry when he became a correspondent for Doordarshan in the 1980s, while he was still in his twenties. Soon, he was anchoring Newstrack, the monthly television newsmagazine made by Purie’s sister, Madhu Trehan. “He was a really dynamic young anchor then,” CB Arun Kumar, who met Bahl on theNewstrack sets in 1989, said. “He was full of good ideas. People were more into politics and general news, but he was into business.”

In 1991, Bahl joined Business India, a publishing house, to create a business version of Newstrack for television. The programme was called The Business India Show. They had produced exactly one edition when, on 21 May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. “You have to imagine how the whole country was in turmoil. It made a lot of business people very jittery. We put the programme on hold because we wanted to wait and see what would happen,” Arun Kumar said.

Sanjay Ray Chaudhuri, one of Network18’s founders, described the ensuing upheaval in an essay he wrote for Mint. “There followed a frustrating time when we were drawing salaries and doing no work. We were young, hungry, ambitious, impatient and at the prime of our working lives. The Gulf War had already shown us the future. The satellite revolution was at our doorstep.” In the meantime, Bahl, Chaudhuri, and Arun Kumar started a new production company, Television Eighteen, in Delhi. (Chaudhuri is now executive director in the Network18 group; Arun is the academic director of a film school in Mumbai.)

With nothing happening, Bahl pitched for work everywhere. “The mood was depressing at the time,” Arun Kumar said. He lucked out when the BBC saw the work Television Eighteen had done. They signed Bahl up to produce and anchor a show called India Business Report. To train the staff, the BBC sent down a retired veteran who went out on shoots with Television Eighteen’s young staff for a few months. His mandate was to bring them up to the BBC’s standards. This wasn’t difficult. Bahl’s video editors and cameramen were graduates of Jamia Millia Islamia, whose mass communications programme produced skilled technicians. Their methods seeped through the organisation, as did the experience of Television Eighteen’s founders.

Between 1993 and the following year, Ashok Advani, the founder of Business India, decided to start a television channel called Business India TV (BITV). He told Bahl that the channel would be transmitted off a Russian satellite. Transmission fees cost $1.5 million, far below than the $5 million cost of using the satellite that broadcast the Star Network and Zee into Indian homes. Advani believed that the money they saved could be used to improve production values. Bahl disagreed on two vital counts. He told Advani it was premature to start a channel, Arun Kumar said. He also thought the Russian satellite was a mistake. For Bahl, “being seen was more important than transmission fees,” Arun Kumar told me. “If your programming is being seen, the quality isn’t important.” Around August 2004, he left BITV, taking a number of his colleagues with him.

Arun Kumar decided to stay back, but Bahl tried convincing him to leave. “He said, ‘Look, we’ll start our channel in due course. This one’s never going to work.’ He was right.” Cable operators decided very quickly that recalibrating their receivers regularly to pick up a beam from a Russian satellite was too much work. Eventually BITV switched to the Star satellite, but it was too late. “They ran out of money, and other channels had traction by then,” Arun Kumar said. “It was a classic business strategy mistake. It brought Advani’s empire tumbling down. They saved money on the satellite, but they lost the whole thing. Raghav knew it was a mistake. He knew all along.”

Meanwhile, Bahl found an opportunity to exploit. Indian television had little business journalism. This presented an allied problem—there were no television business journalists either. He decided to contact reporters and editors at the Economic Times and India Today, and won them over, if not with the promise of a brand new medium, then with offers to double their pay cheques. “After the economic reforms, journalists began to get better salaries across the board, but he was offering raises of 100 percent,” S Srinivasan, whom Bahl hired as an editor in the 1990s, and who now runs the Tamil channel Puthiya Thalaimurai, told me.

Previously, Bahl had produced India Business Report for the BBC and a lifestyle programme, the Amul India Show, for Star TV. The BBC’s methods seeped through the organisation, as did the experience of Television Eighteen’s founders. When Bahl hired journalists to make three programmes that would run on the channel Asia Business News (ABN)—a joint venture between Dow Jones, and the Hinduja family—the new hires were made to learn those ways.

His modus operandi with ABN carried all the hallmarks of his ambition. He hired more than 60 people for one programme alone. “His entire objective was to get the best editorial team,” Srinivasan said. “When he’s on a high, I don’t think he looks at money.” Between themselves, reporters jockeyed to have their stories chosen to fill limited slots. Many of Bahl’s former editors told me that his insistence on good production values set him apart from others in the field.

He shaped their own appreciation for well-produced stories, over long hours in editing rooms, and also by issuing frequent debriefs—voluminous documents critiquing particular programmes and stories, and containing, some former employees said, hidden criticisms of reporters. It was an expensive way to work, but the money from ABN was generous—the company paid Television Eighteen $2,000 (approximately R70,000 in 1996) for each two-minute story.

Bahl told his senior editors that he wanted to sustain quality, even as he was spending more and more time growing the business. Hardev Sanotra, whom Bahl had lured from India Today, was one of those editors. He watched the company’s editorial philosophy form as it produced (and Bahl anchored) India Business Report and the Amul India Show, as well as its daily 90 minutes of programming for ABN. Sanotra told me, “He said, ‘We’ll do ethical journalism, we must do quality journalism, and we’ll pay well.’” Bahl was true to his word. He resisted pressure to drop inconvenient stories. In one particular instance, an interview with the industrialist BK Modi took an unexpected turn when he “said lots of things against the Hindujas,” Sanotra said. “Somehow the Hindujas came to know the interview was running that evening.” He said he received calls from Bombay and London, where the Hindujas were based, but none from Bahl. The story ran untouched.

Soon there were unforeseen troubles, not helped along by the fact that a large chunk of the business’s funds came from overseas. “Whatever money came in had to come through the Reserve Bank of India. In 9–10 months the money began to be delayed,” Sanotra, now with the soon-to-be-launched television channel New Generation (Puthiya Thalaimurai’s English counterpart), recalled. Salaries and allowances were constantly deferred, and even though people were eventually paid their due, the delays “started having an impact on morale”. In 1997, Bahl shut down the programme for which he had hired so extravagantly, because it consumed large resources. “Almost 60–70 people were asked to leave,” Srinivasan said. “It was surprising, because even as he was laying them off, he said it was a temporary blip, and that he would start a channel. It was clear to him. But to me, it looked too far away.”

But Bahl saw no hurdles, only opportunities. He brought the international channel CNBC to India in 2000, producing eight hours of programming a day for the new channel CNBC-TV18. Govindraj Ethiraj, now the editor of Indiaspend.com, a popular data journalism website, joined the team for the new channel in 1999. “He was like, ‘define your own job’,” Ethiraj remembered. As managing editor of CNBC-TV18, Bahl advised his hires to think quickly. “He would say that you should do your planning, but not ad nauseum. ‘Get it off the ground and then correct it’.” I asked Ethiraj what he remembered most fondly about his time there. He didn’t take very long to respond. “He makes you feel like you’re in it together,” he said. “He was very inspired by Narayana Murthy [co-founder of Infosys].” In that spirit, Bahl’s was among the first Indian media companies to offer employee stock options.

Bahl teamed up with a new CEO, Haresh Chawla—a veteran of Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd and Times Music—and took the company public in a 1999 IPO that was oversubscribed by over 50 times. “The company has collected close to Rs. 2511 crore,” the Indian Express reported in December 1999. Chawla and Bahl began a website called Rupeecontrol.com in the wake of the success of the financial portal Moneycontrol.com. When Moneycontrol itself ran into trouble at the end of the dotcom boom, the pair were able to buy it out for a song. (For a brief while Chawla considered renaming his new acquisition Rupeecontrol, but then dropped the idea.) In 2000, Bahl told investors that the company was about to grow even more rapidly. He said he had plans to enter the online brokerage business, and bolster his teams of anchors at CNBC with experts to polish the coverage to a high sheen, because it had an “immediate impact on the stock market”.

Chawla, if anything, was even more keen to get a move on than Bahl. “Raghav didn’t think he could take on a Prannoy Roy,” a former editor there said. “He didn’t think he could take on NDTV. Haresh was more ambitious.” Within five years, Chawla convinced Sardesai to leave NDTV to start a general news channel and take ownership of it. Sardesai held 2.25 percent of the new endeavour. Within months of its launch in December 2005, thanks to its clever distribution strategies and, I was told, Sardesai’s star power, CNN-IBN’s ratings overtook NDTV’s. Within ten years, the group had licensing arrangements with Viacom and Forbes, Hindi and Marathi channels, a printing press, a healthy publishing business, a home shopping network, and a movie studio.

It burned through cash. Bahl described his approach to the business in an essay he wrote for the media website MxMIndia.com earlier this year about launching Colors, the network’s popular general entertainment channel. “Yes, it would cost hundreds of crores, but we were clear that we would rather burn hundreds of crores in a high voltage launch and win or flame out, as against die a slow and painful death with a hundred small cuts, struggling every day in the Number 4 or 5 position, draining away cash and energy, shoulders drooping, simply waiting for the inevitable closure. We were sure that we had to enter with the mind-set of a leader.”

It is a mindset that has served Bahl well over the course of a career whose post-liberalisation narrative—a first-generation businessman building a veritable media empire in under two decades—has a near-fabulous quality to it. Vivian Fernandes, who worked with Bahl for 18 years and is the co-writer of Superpower?, Bahl’s book about competition between China and India, said to me: “His story is a proxy for India’s economic reform.” In a CNBC interview with Anuradha Sengupta during the network’s publicity blitz for the book, Bahl twinkled when Sengupta opened the discussion by asking him why he had chosen not to write about his own story. “We’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

“He knew what he wanted,” Srinivasan said. “He knew very early. He could be ruthless. He didn’t flinch once a decision was taken.” I asked him how he would describe the company’s growth. “They grow, they shrink, they grow.” This was a description I heard often. “Indian entrepreneurs lack a strategic vision,” Srinivasan said, speaking in general. “Have you heard of a five-year plan? Or a ten-year plan? In media you don’t know what’s happening six months later.” Srinivasan, saying this in 2013, had the benefit of hindsight. For most of the past decade, the Network18 group had ridden on markets flush with money, and eager investors who bought the story Bahl sold. But while the group grew, it began to morph into something that bewildered its investors and staff.

|THREE |

IN 2007, Network18 floated the Indian Film Company (IFC) on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM), a small exchange with few regulatory hurdles. The IFC was a film fund created to finance the production and distribution of feature films, a new area of interest for a group that had, so far, been content to operate only on television and the internet. “I invested money on the face value of Raghav Bahl, that’s it,” Deepak Gupta, a large investor in the Indian Film Company, told me. “I had heard a lot of stories about him. I had great faith in the guy.”

Bahl sold his investors the proposition of a disciplined Indian film industry. He wasn’t alone in this. The middle of the previous decade saw the rise of marketing and finance professionals—“soap sellers”, the politician Amar Singh called them—in Indian films. They populated marketing and distribution departments, ran studios, and set up investment opportunities. Bahl was among the first of these to solicit foreign investment in an organised way, promising change in what was a sexy, if deeply feudal, business.

Gupta says he bought into the message, and the messenger, for reasons he couldn’t fully explain. Bahl wove visions of growth and dazzling returns in a promising industry—a mine waiting to be tapped by professionals. “It will enable high quality international investors to reap the benefits of the structural changes and growth opportunities being thrown up by the Indian film industry,” he proclaimed at the time. The IFC aimed to produce or acquire an improbable 40 to 50 films for release each year. And generating returns for his shareholders was among Bahl’s first priorities, he said. He would bring investors an annual return of 20 percent, “if you manage the capital efficiently.”

“My intention was not to stay there for very long,” Gupta said on a phone call from Dubai, where he lives. Gupta was a “fund manager kind of guy”, he told me—an early investor who typically sold high quickly, preferably for a five or ten percent gain. He invested £3.6 million in the IFC, he told me, and waited for the fund to list. He told other investors that he hoped to cash in within a couple of months. The fund opened on the morning of 18 June 2007 at 99 pence, and it traded only a percentage higher for the rest of that day. Not unreasonably, Gupta had expected the fund to rise dramatically, in keeping with volcanic IPOs everywhere before the crash of 2008. Instead, the fund soon began a rapid descent: within months, the stock lost almost 20 percent of its value.

As the stock crashed, IFC’s management, led by Bahl, declared it remained optimistic. It had turned a profit with the success of Jab We Met and Welcome in its first ten months, and claimed, in its annual report of 2008, that it would benefit from “the effect of a number of positive dynamics” within India’s various film industries. As the promoter and managing director of Network18, which held 18.18 percent of IFC, a stake worth Rs. 80 crore, Bahl, backed by management, told shareholders in Network18’s own annual report that year that although the value of their investment was down, IFC was profitable and had a “positive net worth”. Therefore, “no provision for diminution in value … is considered necessary in the accounts”.

But Bahl reserved his optimism for his publicly listed companies. In private, he stated otherwise. On the 2008 balance sheet of an unlisted Mauritius company, BK Media Mauritius Private Limited, which held IFC stock, he said he expected the value of the investment in IFC to fall. “Considering the current economic scenario and a conservative accounting policy,” he wrote, “provision for impairment has been made against these investments as per management’s estimates…”

IFC’s independent shareholders grew restless with the growing chasm between the fund’s performance and the management’s continuing assertion that it was faring well. By 2008, they began to demand more detailed numbers, and asked questions about how the company’s chief asset, its movie portfolio, was valued.

“They refused to give us numbers,” an investor named Atul Setia said to me. “As investors we saw hit film after hit film, and nine months later we would expect the numbers to be pretty good, but they never were very good. It was a frustration investors had, and they couldn’t understand what was going on in the company.” Finally, in late 2008, Setia travelled to Mumbai with Deepak Gupta to persuade Bahl and the board to bring about change. Their meeting with the board was a disaster; Setia and Gupta left with the distinct feeling that no one was interested in their proposition. Soon after, in a highly publicised manoeuvre in January 2009, Gupta and others came together to form the Indian Film Company Requisition Group—a pressure tactic to acquire representation on the IFC’s five-member board of directors, which included Bahl, Shyam Benegal, and Lord Meghnad Desai. By now, IFC stock was trading at around 25 pence, down by 75 percent from its listed price. Reports depicted the episode as a campaign to have Bahl evicted from the company, but Gupta denied this emphatically to me. “We did not want a hostile takeover,” he said. “Who among us had the experience to run this business? Were we ready to kill our own money?”

As a result of the agitation, Gupta and Setia both won positions on the board, giving them the authority to look into the heart of the company’s financials. Gupta discovered that the fund’s CEO, Sandeep Bhargava, was not only responsible for buying movies, but also for valuing them—disparate responsibilities that together constituted a conflict of interest, Gupta believed. He urged management to get an independent evaluator, given that “60 to 70 percent” of the company’s valuation was based on its stockpile of movies.

In July 2009, out of the blue, Network18 Holdings, a Cayman Islands subsidiary of Network18, made an offer to buy back IFC’s shares. Shareholders were offered 40 pence a share. “But here’s the real catch,” Gupta said. “The stock was trading at 26 pence, but in its books, the company valued its assets at 113 pence a share. They wanted to buy back at 40p.”

For the two years during which the fund had lost value, Gupta had tried with increasing desperation to sell his stake, but couldn’t find a purchaser. By the time I called him, six years after his initial investment, distance had given him perspective. Gupta admitted he had not researched the market, and had instead been led by a tempting growth story. He hadn’t heard closely the fund manager’s utterances before the IFC listed (“… the perception of greater liquidity has made [the Alternative Investment Market] an attractive destination for a lot of companies”). The fund’s price hadn’t risen because, until the buyback offer, there had been simply no demand for its shares on the AIM. “It’s a sucker’s market,” Gupta said about the exchange. “There’s just no liquidity there.” This was true. Over one 30 trading-day span in 2009, the fund’s shares changed hands on only five days. For the other 25, there were no buyers.

Gupta, Setia, and the others decided to sell. By 7 September 2009, Network18 Holdings had purchased nearly 60 percent of IFC. In total, the Network18 group ended up possessing over 80 percent.

But there were more convolutions to come, and this time Network18’s shareholders would be affected. In October 2010, Gupta and Setia learnt that a Cyprus-based company named Roptonal had offered to purchase Network18’s IFC shares for 115.56 pence each. Roptonal was a subsidiary of Viacom18, in which TV18 held a 50 per cent stake. At the time, Chawla was the group CEO of Network18, as well as the CEO of Viacom18—which put him in charge of both buyer and seller. In effect, Network18’s Bahl and Chawla had undervalued IFC’s shares at first, and then, in doing a deal with Viacom18, which they held sway over, acquired a seemingly high value for themselves. IFC’s former shareholders weren’t entirely surprised. “We knew that one of the options [Bahl had] was to buy the company back at a very low price,” Setia said.

Roptonal’s offer to IFC’s shareholders valued the stock at 15 percent over its original listing price circa 2007. But Network18’s Rs. 80.78 crore investment in the fund had grown less than a percent in more than three years, due to a drastically changed exchange rate. It was a reality far removed from Bahl’s glittering initial promise of 20 percent annual returns to IFC’s investors.

However, matters turned out somewhat differently for the Network18 subsidiary based in the Cayman Islands, Network18 Holdings. It had purchased shares from minority shareholders at the 2009 buyback offer of 40 pence, and sold these on to Roptonal in 2010 at 115.56 pence. For the Cayman subsidiary, that transaction represented a gain of 188 percent in one year.

But Network18’s shareholders only realised the real cost of their investment in IFC in 2013. It turned out that when Roptonal purchased IFC from Network18 Holdings in 2010, it was on the condition that any shortfall in expected income from its newly acquired film library would be covered by Network18 Holdings. But Roptonal also demanded, and received assurance, that Network18 would pay up if Network18 Holdings could not. Roptonal expected to earn Rs. 322 crore over a four-year period that ends next year. Network18 has not explained why its Cayman subsidiary cannot make the payment, and has made a provision of Rs. 237 crore to bridge the shortfall (a figure which would have constituted 80 percent of its revenues last year).

Setia told me that Bahl was the epitome of a certain sort of entrepreneur. “He’s a very intelligent, articulate Indian promoter,” Setia said about him. I asked him what he meant by “Indian promoter”. “They look after their own interests,” he said. “The Indian market is typified by illiquid companies with large promoter shareholdings where there’s a lot of manipulation for the financial benefit of the promoter.”

Analysts realised how difficult it was becoming to decipher the group’s numbers during its 2010 restructuring, a major operation that involved merging and demerging ten of the group’s companies. When one analyst, Nikhil Vora, asked Bahl for clarity on the earnings call following this restructuring in May 2010, he received an elaborate evasion for an answer. Vora, the head of research at the finance firm IDFC, asked Bahl, “I am not asking specifics but want to understand the broad objective of this entire restructuring. Is it to get all your news assets into a single entity? What is the broad thought process which is being deployed apart from making it shareholder friendly…?” In response, Bahl talked for two full minutes about investors who believed the company structure was too complicated. He said he hoped to sort out the confusion after putting “our best efforts and our best thoughts into the various possibilities … However, the minute we are absolutely ready with it, we will come back to our shareholders.” Decoded, this appeared to be an acknowledgment of the fact that shareholders had concerns, and the company would address them when it had a solution. But at no point did Bahl actually say why the restructuring had happened.

When I contacted Network18 with questions about some of its numbers, the company responded tersely that its “transactions have been made in accordance with the regulatory requirements”. Some of these transactions, analysts point out, are questionable. In 2010, Porinju Veliyath, the founder of Equity Intelligence, an investment firm, sent out an angry email with the subject line, “Raghav Bahl doing Daylight Robbery on TV-18 shareholders!” Veliyath’s investors owned a small stake in TV18, and he was aggrieved by what seemed like blatant stock price manipulation in the months before the crucial 2010 restructuring (which Vora had asked about on the earnings call). He also calculated that after the restructuring, assets transferred from TV18 to Network18 were undervalued by over Rs. 900 crore. “Can this merger of TV18 be stopped by minority shareholders?” he asked in his email. He wrote that he would begin legal proceedings against TV18 in this matter, but it isn’t clear if he followed through on the threat. Veliyath declined to be interviewed for this piece.

“From a finance perspective, it’s a company built to pull wool over shareholders’ eyes,” Deepak Shenoy, who runs the financial website Capital Mind, told me on a phone call from Bangalore. Shenoy posts regular dissections of company finances on Capital Mind, and has kept a running tab on Network18’s numbers, which he says indicate that it’s a company that “keeps hiding stuff under the carpet”.

In 2011, he discovered a befuddling note in the company’s annual report. Network18’s management took a Rs. 255-crore loan, but the money wasn’t for the company. It was for a confusingly named trust called ‘Network18 Group Senior Professional Welfare Trust’, over which Bahl, his wife, and his sister, Vandana Malik, exercised significant influence. The trust was provided this money even though Network18’s management knew it was unlikely that any “economic benefit will flow to the company from the trust,” according to the Network18 company’s 2011 annual report. The report also showed that the trust repaid Rs. 202 crore to Network18 that year, but still owed it nearly Rs. 150 crore. “Why the heck should a company give Rs. 255 crore of its own investments, as security against a loan to a promoter entity?” Shenoy asked. He observed that the trust controlled by the Bahls had used loans to purchase shares directly from the market in September and October 2011. “Effectively, the company’s money was used to help the promoters buy more shares from someone else,” Shenoy wrote. “This is brazen. I don’t know if it’s illegal, but it sure as hell should be.”

Network18’s annual reports and balance sheets do not always make easy reading for its shareholders. Indeed, for a company its size, Network18’s complex financial dealings tend to attract very little scrutiny. “The group is a serious wealth destroyer. It’s not funny how much wealth has been decimated,” a former head of one of the group’s several companies told me. “The strange thing is the lack of action against them from regulators.” I asked him why analysts weren’t more vocal about their concerns, and he replied, “If they do that, they won’t be invited to CNBC again.”

Not all regulators were quiet. In February 2008, M Damodaran, who was coming to the end of his tenure as chief of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), was interviewed by Shekhar Gupta for his television programme Walk the Talk. Damodaran spoke of having received a letter from an investor soon after the Reliance Power (an Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group business) IPO, which had taken place the previous month. The investor claimed that CNBC-TV18’s coverage of the IPO had been unusual. “The investor asked, ‘I saw you guys saying everything was good about a particular [IPO] till it listed below the issue price. And now I find you saying everything is wrong and talking it down. What happened to you guys?’ I think there’s considerable merit in it [the letter],” Damodaran said. “How is it that suddenly on listing, all the virtues that you thought resided in some particular issue disappeared? I think the media has a very large role to play and I am afraid that that role is not being played to the best of its ability.” (For all his dissatisfaction, Damodaran was in the audience two years later when Bahl launched his book Superpower? at the Taj Palace in Delhi, at an event compered by Shereen Bhan, a popular CNBC anchor.)

Over his career, Bahl has demonstrated a talent for smoothing over complex relationships, both human and financial. He is also gifted at making simple things complicated. His group valued the acquisition of Reliance’s stake in ETV at Rs. 1,925crore. Network18’s public filings from 2012 later revealed that the acquisition price was founded on an Ernst & Young report that itself was based on findings from unaudited information, given to it by TV18 and ETV. To seal the matter, Network18’s management declared in the 2012 filings that their ETV acquisition, the biggest purchase in their history, was based on the conclusions of the report—but they could not guarantee if the numbers were correct.

By 2011, the company began to slip out of Bahl’s grasp. After years of optimistic projections, it had arrived at the edge of a financial abyss, and several of Bahl’s former employees were convinced he had simply overreached. “He’s very aggressive,” Sanotra told me, “but when you expand too quickly, markets don’t support you.”

As his once-buoyant enterprise began to falter, Bahl sought assistance from Reliance—reluctantly, according to a senior editor of a Network18 website. “He was in a bind about entering a pact with the devil.” Pania, the Reliance spokesperson, explained to me that “the promoters were looking for finance. They were looking to reduce debt.”

Chawla, Bahl’s CEO, wanted no part of it. In November 2011, two months before the Reliance deal was announced, he resigned from Network18. “From a small single-channel operation with revenues of just Rs. 15 crore, we grew to become a Rs. 3,000-crore conglomerate with a presence in almost every branch of media,” Chawla told Businessworld in April 2013. Dealing with Reliance was another matter. He told the magazine that quitting “was not a complex decision. It was one of those things you do when you wake up. I just felt I did not want to engage with [the Ambanis].” He declined to be interviewed for this story, and said he had been misquoted in the Businessworld story, but then unintentionally let slip during a brief but heated conversation weeks later—in which he once again declined—that his last days there “were an unpleasant situation. Now it’s over.”

Reporters are aware of how the arrangement might affect them. “They are using our credibility,” a top editor at one of the group’s channels told me. “I am worried about that. One day people will ask us questions.”

|FOUR |

ONLY A DECADE AGO, Bahl had believed that competition would serve him well. He reasoned that competition deepened the market, and it could only be to his benefit. In time, as he grappled with the complexities of his sprawling organisation and a quickly changing marketplace, his solutions to commercial problems appeared to come in conflict with his journalistic ideals.

The effect of Bahl’s growing pragmatism began to be felt at CNN-IBN some years after its launch. He was troubled by the increasing popularity of Times Now, which began operations in 2006 and thrived on the allure of its combative editor-in-chief, Arnab Goswami. During primetime, Sardesai’s calm and reasoned demeanour proved no match for Goswami’s corybantic style. By 2008, Times Now’s ratings overtook those of CNN-IBN, which irritated Bahl. “Raghav was very unhappy when Arnab started winning,” a former senior CNN-IBN editor told me. “Rajdeep used to say that Raghav would tell him, ‘Arnab must be doing something right.’” The editor felt that, as a result, there was “tremendous tension between them.”

To counter Goswami, the channel began to funnel resources towards its primetime talk shows, privileging them over news and reportage. Reporters also noticed that Sardesai began to anchor whenever big stories were breaking, a practice usually associated with Goswami. “They’ve been cutting down on news. It’s about chasing the day’s big story,” a reporter said.

Current and former employees say that CNN-IBN began to change palpably in 2010. “The way we played news, the way we functioned. You could get a story right, but unless Times Now played it up, we wouldn’t either. That was frustrating,” a former reporter said. And if Times Now had footage, CNN-IBN’s editors wanted it too. When Times Now once ran a clip of Rajesh Khanna waving to fans on loop, editors at CNN-IBN assigned their threadbare staff to acquire the same footage. On his visits to Mumbai, Sardesai echoed Bahl’s feelings to his staff: “Times Now is doing something right.”

Once Reliance invested in the group, editors approached stories about their benefactor gingerly. In one instance in 2012, a possible story containing a reference about Reliance and TV18 bidding for Indian cricket rights was discussed by the channel’s core editors for two days. “People were saying, ‘Yeah, let’s play it up,’” a person involved in the story’s production told me. But the reference worried them, and they asked the reporter to confirm once more that Reliance had placed a bid. This was confirmed, but the story that ran contained only the names of other bidders. “There was an editorial call to keep Reliance out of stories,” the person said. Other editors suggested this too. The editor at Firstpost told me, “We don’t talk too much about Reliance. Neither pro, nor con. I’m uncomfortable with the compromises we’ve made.”

In a 2008 interview with Businessworld, Bahl had talked about the group’s existing commercial arrangements with companies they covered. “We do not compromise editorial. If you want to compromise content, you don’t need … a private treaty to do it. It need not show on your books either. We do have a policy of private treaties, but what is wrong with a business plan that monetises our media reach? What difference does it make if we pay for a stake in a company in cash or kind? It is true that the companies we invest in get access. It is also true they may try and influence us, but that is the occupational hazard every journalist faces.”

Over the years, as the balance Bahl was required to maintain between his twin roles as businessman and journalist shifted, the chances that his reporters would face the “occupational hazard” of outside influence began to increase. As a result, journalists found themselves in uncomfortable situations. Last year, Vivian Fernandes, who co-wrote Bahl’s book, was dispatched to Gujarat to interview the chief minister, Narendra Modi. A person involved with the production of the interview recalled that Fernandes asked Modi 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. When Bahl heard about the curtailed interview, he reportedly told Fernandes, “We should have a clear line between marketing and editorial.”

The line, I discovered, was crossed cavalierly some weeks ago. In late October, a finished story on Micromax scheduled for a Forbes India issue was suddenly held back for the future—a decision that threw the editorial department. In the mean time, Gurmeet Singh, the CEO of Forbes India, called one of the co-founders of Micromax to talk while the story was on hold. Singh was an irrepressible salesman, several current and former Forbes India editorial staff told me. The call by the CEO to the subject of the profile concerned them. “You suspect the worst,” a reporter said. “It raises questions about conflict of interest. You have to put it in context.” The context, in this case, was that earlier that month, Sai Kumar, the group CEO of Network18, had met Forbes India employees in a town hall meeting, and told them that the group would no longer judge ad sales in the traditional way (that is, quarter to quarter). Instead, the company wanted “strategic partnerships” with advertisers, Kumar told the room. “In the long run, we want dealmakers,” an employee who was present recalled Kumar saying. The story finally ran in mid-November, but a disillusioned employee told me, “The job has changed, because the management has taken a different focus.” In May 2013, after the acrimonious departure of Indrajit Gupta and three editors, Jagannathan took over Forbes India. He told MxMIndia in May, “Forbes … is not meant to be an NGO. It is not meant to be anti-capitalism.” With recent cover lines such as “Leaders for all seasons”, “Winners in the making”, “How to think uber rich”, Forbes India can hardly be accused of being critical of Indian business. “The very focus of the magazine makes me uncomfortable as a journalist,” the employee said. “It’s all some special issue or the other.” As a result of these changes, of five reporters in the magazine’s Bangalore bureau, two have quit, and two more are about to resign.

In the last months of 2010, the former economy and policy editor at Forbes India, Dinesh Narayanan, heard about a finance ministry file related to an extension of term for the then SEBI chairman, Chandrasekhar Bhave. Narayanan filed a right to information request to view the file, and was allowed to do so in January 2011. He discovered that a September 2009 ministry request to extend Bhave’s stint was filled with strong endorsements from, among others, the finance secretary Ashok Chawla, and the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee. Bhave had, in only three years, markedly improved the quality of SEBI’s investigations, and cleared a backlog of cases through consent orders (documents through which SEBI settles administrative or civil proceedings). “The most famous consent order was against billionaire Anil Ambani and two companies of his group and their officials on charges of diverting funds raised abroad,” Narayanan wrote in a story he filed in the first week of February 2011. “Insider accounts say that Anil Ambani met Bhave and argued his group had done nothing wrong. But that did not help the businessman avoid the outcomes altogether. He had to agree to pay a penalty of Rs. 50 crore and go on a self-imposed exile from the secondary market for a year.”

The file showed that Mukherjee had approved of an extension for Bhave. But one day in November 2009, two months after the file was opened, the finance minister’s adviser, Omita Paul, asked for the file. “[S]he added a comment in her own handwriting,” Narayanan wrote. “She asked the minister to take note of the composition of the SEBI board and the present tenures of the chairman and members.” A day later, Mukherjee “ordered that no further action be taken on the extension of Bhave and the whole-time members of SEBI.” The smooth progress of Bhave’s extension orders seemed to grind to a puzzling halt here—around the same time, the draft of Narayanan’s story suggested, that SEBI was investigating charges against Anil Ambani’s group. In addition, Narayanan wrote that “Mukesh Ambani, India’s wealthiest and arguably the most influential businessman, is facing the heat too. SEBI is doggedly pursuing insider trading charges against the group.”

The magazine staff knew they had an explosive story on their hands, a former staff writer said. The issue was due to appear at the end of February, around budget time, and only three days before Bhave left his post. Indrajit Gupta, the editor, told Narayanan to get the ministry’s side of the story. Gupta says he was passing on orders from Bahl, who told Gupta that Mukherjee had rang. “Raghav said it was the first time that Pranab Mukherjee had phoned. There was enormous pressure to pull the story,” Gupta said. “Raghav and Senthil [Chengalvarayan, then the managing editor at CNBC-TV18] were insistent that we shouldn’t carry it. He got Senthil to put a fair amount of pressure.” For a week after Mukherjee called, Narayanan made four attempts to talk and meet with ministry officials, but they didn’t respond. On the night the Forbes India staff signed off on the final draft, closed the issue and went out for a beer, the injunction came from the management to drop the story, and a story about Rajasthan cricket went on the cover instead.

Later, in a review meeting with the staff, Bahl took responsibility for the inadequate replacement cover, but did not explain why the Bhave story wasn’t carried. While he confided to Gupta that the finance minister had called, Bahl did not disclose that Network18 and Reliance—which had been mentioned in the story for its troubles with SEBI—were very likely in talks that February about a Network18 bailout. (According to company filings, Digital Content Private Limited, the trustee for Independent Media Trust—which invested in Network18—was formed on 5 April. Its constitution was written on 24 March, barely a month after the story was withdrawn.)

AS THE 2014 ELECTIONS COME INTO VIEW, Bahl’s network has begun to tilt noticeably rightward—a deliberate movement that has left his journalists uneasy about their ability to exercise editorial discretion. In the weeks leading up to the group’s first Think India conference in April, Bahl told his management that he wanted to start a foundation called Think Right (the conference would spring from the foundation). Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose, the deputy editor at CNN-IBN, 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. The foundation’s name, everyone agreed, should be Think India.

For the first lecture of the Think India Foundation, Bahl asked Sanjay Pugalia, the editor-in-chief of CNBC Awaaz, to invite Narenda Modi. Sardesai was aware of how the exercise would appear. “Rajdeep said that we were a media organisation and, even if we didn’t mean it, by providing a platform across all our channels for Modi, people would get the impression that we were leaning towards one party,” the person said. (As a result, the group attempted to persuade Rahul Gandhi, J Jayalalithaa, and Nitish Kumar to attend later editions of the conference, a former reporter there said.)

A small group was created to work on the conference and solicit coverage from Network18’s and TV18’s properties. “There was a concerted effort to drive a large visible campaign to prop up Modi in the run up to the Think India platform,” Gupta told me. Each channel, publication, and website had to carry promotional material of some kind. “They wanted a Modi cover story from Forbes India.” He says that Jagannathan broached the subject with him, and didn’t seem to mind that the magazine had carried Modi on the cover the previous year. “Jaggi said he wanted the cover to be a macroeconomic story on Modi, and said we should speak to [the economist] Bibek Debroy.” Gupta pushed back, and Jagannathan finally relented.

On 8 April, Modi arrived at the Taj Palace hotel in New Delhi for the first Think India conference. A healthy audience had filled the room to listen to Modi talk about the need for smaller government. But two-thirds of them were the group’s staff who had been rushed in to make up for guests who had refused to turn up, according to a former reporter. “The number of guests anticipated were not there.” An editor present there said, “Lots of BJP functionaries turned up, but no corporate guys turned up.” Bahl, who had angled for Modi to be the first guest, interviewed the chief minister himself.

The annual getaway for senior management took place this year in early 2013, in Macau. Its unofficial agenda was ‘profit’, an editor who went to the retreat said. “In Macau, Raghav said we need profits. No more losses. There would be no new channels,” the editor told me. From what he could make out, as slide after slide of the group’s 60-odd companies’ revenues were displayed, it was clear that the group was struggling. Network18, the parent company, had scraped through with a Rs. 14-crore profit that quarter, but only because it had cashed in an investment.

They also touched upon politics in a way the editors present there were unlikely to forget. At a panel discussion featuring Sardesai and Jagdish Chandra, the CEO of ETV Rajasthan, Chandra talked about how all his shows ran on government money. “I remember him saying, ‘Our channel is profitable in Rajasthan. I keep Vasundhara Raje happy, and I also keep Ashok Gehlot happy. Both parties happy,’” the editor said. The other editors there, including Ashutosh of IBN7, and Nikhil Wagle of the Marathi channel IBN-Lokmat, protested vociferously. The editors’ mood sank further when Bahl let the large gathering know he favoured Modi as India’s next prime minister. Bahl’s political preference seemed to have dismayed the editor I spoke to. Between the Macau conference and September, when we met, the editor became convinced that Bahl’s preferences had influenced the network. “Until last year, Rajdeep was the most important person here. Now after Mr Ambani, Mr Modi is the most important person.”

I spoke to this editor again in the middle of November. “It’s serious. They have started supporting Modi directly. They have started putting indirect pressure on [editors] to not criticise Narendra Modi,” the editor said. “Every time big issues have to be decided, they’re done on mail, and everyone’s opinions are sought. But this Narendra Modi thing was never discussed. I think [Think India] was created to promote him.”

Network18 is not alone in its rightward swing, but as Modi’s value in the attention economy 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, the Centre for Media Studies, an independent think tank 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, seen as Modi’s rival in the upcoming elections, for approximately 18 minutes. All five channels had spent more time covering Modi, but no other channel’s coverage was as disproportionate.

Early on 9 November, a Saturday, Sardesai travelled to Nagpur to meet Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Two senior editors in touch with Sardesai independently confirmed that 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. This view raises the question of what Bahl, who has interfered with editorial decisions, is willing to overlook. Before he interviewed Modi, he told a Firstpost interviewer that he believed “that whatever be other attributes of his, or the commentary around him, when it comes to advocating small government, he’s perhaps the only leader of that stature [who is doing so], whether a chief minister, a cabinet minister, or a prime minister.”

In October, I asked a senior editor at CNN-IBN if the channel had been under any overt pressure to change its political stances. “There’s no pressure,” the editor assured me. “Raghav’s centre-right. He’s of that view, and makes no bones about it.” But for all these years, this had not prevented CNN-IBN’s views from being shaped by the outlook of its editorial team—many of whom, including Sardesai and Ghose, are considered prime suspects in a liberal conspiracy against the BJP, Hindu nationalism, the Gujarat model and Narendra Modi by some of the supporters of these institutions.

Bahl himself displayed no particular animus for the UPA government in public. In a 2010 interview about Superpower? with CNBC’s Anuradha Sengupta, Bahl, in his clipped, management-guru tones, seemed optimistic about the “pro-incumbency” wave that had led voters to return the mandate to political representatives who were “even half-delivering”.

But things are different now. “The UPA government makes people angry,” the CNN-IBN editor I was speaking to told me. “For the first 50 years, the Left had a hegemony over public discourse. The Hindu view was seen as loony, fringe, way out there. But what was the voice of dissent has become dominant.” Sensing my scepticism about this reply, this editor added, “You can’t impose views, because you have to show people everything.”

“It’s no secret that the newsroom is the battleground for ideas,” the editor said. “What would be worrisome if there was one dominant view pushed on us. That has not been the case.”


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When Reliance is the Buyer and seller – its a ‘ sham’ transaction

“Thus, it can be seen that the buyer and seller were one and the same group, that is, Reliance. The maze of companies and web of fund movement was created only to hide the identity of the group”. PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA unravels the SFIO documents reported earlier on the Hoot. Pix: Bestmediainfo.com
Thehoot.org

 

RIL Logo

RIL Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

A report of the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) has levelled a series of allegations against India’s biggest privately-controlled corporate entity Reliance Industries Limited, headed by the country’s richest man Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani, accusing it of having engineered a series of allegedly illegal transactions to control a company that controlled the NewsX television channel which, in turn, resulted in “wrongful” losses to the extent of hundreds of crores of rupees. Though the SFIO does not explicitly say so, the losses have presumably been incurred by ordinary shareholders of RIL.

 

The allegedly fraudulent set of transactions have been linked to corporate entities controlled by lobbyist Niira Radia, a Mauritius-based associate of multinational investment firm New Silk Route (whose founders include Rajat Gupta and Raj Rajaratnam who have been found guilty of insider trading charges in the United States of America) and a gas transportation company that was a subsidiary of RIL and which was supposedly “converted” into the “private property” of Mukesh Ambani “through a maze of private companies” in what has been described as a “classic manoeuvre”.

 

The documents containing these sensational allegations were submitted to the Supreme Court of India on Monday (November 11) on behalf of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) by lawyer Prashant Bhushan. The bench of the apex court, comprising Justices G.S. Singhvi and V. Gopalagowda, has been urged to order a fresh investigation into the allegations contained in the SFIO’s report as part of the larger probe into apparent criminal acts revealed in the telephone conversations of Radia that were recorded by the Income Tax Department.

 

(Besides the RIL-NewsX-New Silk Route episode, the documents of the SFIO submitted to the country’s apex court include allegations against the Tata group and the Unitech group of companies in a separate land-cum-telecommunications deal.)

 

The complex set of transactions involving a slew of companies that are part of the Reliance, INX Media (which owned the English television news channel, NewsX) and New Silk Route corporate conglomerates have been meticulously laid out in a series of tables and flow-charts by inspectors and other officials of the SFIO in documents, some of which are as recent as April 2013.

 

The non-government organisation CPIL claimed that although the SFIO’s documents have been in existence for some months now, no action has been taken by the government on the basis of the evidence unearthed which allegedly reveal a host of fraudulent and apparently illegal and criminal acts of corruption. The SFIO is under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

 

The documents reveal that investigations conducted by the Income Tax Department have “proved beyond doubt that the sale of NewsX channel” to a company called Indi Media Co Pvt Ltd by way of subscription of equity to the extent of 92 per cent of INX News Pvt Ltd was a “sham” transaction and a “premeditated plan” of the RIL group to fund the latter corporate entity “through its front companies” employing a “web of transactions”.

 

The SFIO arrived at this conclusion on the basis of the deposition of K R Raja who was a top executive (senior vice president) of RIL handling corporate finance who took instructions from and reported to Manoj Modi, a close associate of Mukesh Ambani.

 

Here’s an excerpt from pages 24 and 25 of the SFIO (edited slightly) report:

 

“On 9 September 2010, INX Media Pvt Ltd was demerged with Zee Entertainment, a listed company, and all the shareholders of INX Media Pvt Ltd including IM Media Pvt and Indrani Incon Pvt Ltd (both controlled by Pratim [Peter] Mukherjea’s wife Indrani Mukherjea) were allotted equity shares of Zee Entertainment.  Further, in June 2011, equity shares of INX Media Pvt Ltd held by IM Media Pvt and Indrani Incon Pvt Ltd were sold to 9X Media Employee Trust and equity shares of Zee Entertainment held by IM Media Pvt and Indrani Incon Pvt Ltd were sold to INX Media Pvt Ltd. Here again, net losses of Rs 215 crore and Rs 86.22 crore was booked by IM Media Pvt and Indrani Incon Pvt Ltd. Thus it can be seen that the strategy employed by the companies, namely, INX Media and IM Media Pvt Ltd, both of them funded by RIL, is to enter into sham share transactions and book losses.

 

“Thus, as the evidence unfolds, the promoter group companies of Reliance advanced funds in the guise of convertible loans only to acquire the equity in INX Media and IM Media Pvt Ltd. The two companies in turn acquired the equity of INX News Pvt Ltd which was operating the NewsX channel. Hence, (on the) one hand, the promoter group companies of Reliance advanced funds to acquire equity of INX News Pvt Ltd at a premium and, on the other hand, one of the RIL companies, namely, Aarthik Commercials Pvt Ltd advanced funds to Indi Media Co Pvt Ltd through Suvi Info Management Pvt Ltd to acquire the same equity from INX Media Pvt Ltd and IM Media Pvt at Rs 10 per share at par causing wrongful loss of Rs 168.50 crore to … INX Media Pvt Ltd and IM Media Pvt Ltd and an equivalent wrongful gain to Indi Media Pvt Ltd. Thus, it can be seen that the buyer and seller were one and the same group, that is, Reliance. The maze of companies and web of fund movement was created only to hide the identity of the group and to induce losses in the hands of INX Media Pvt Ltd and IM Media Pvt Ltd and gains at the hands of Indi Media Pvt Ltd as per the premeditated plan…”

 

Here’s another excerpt from pages 33, 34 and 35 of the SFIO report:

 

“The question which is thrown open for further investigation is the interest of Reliance in New Silk Route (NSR). From the NewsX deal, it can be seen that the NewsX channel was in fact a hindrance in allowing controlling shareholding to New Silk route in the equity of INX Media Pvt Ltd which in turn held 29 per cent equity of INX News Pvt Ltd which ran (the) NewsX channel. INX Media Pvt Ltd was then a subsidiary of IM Media Pvt Ltd which in turn held 62.9 per cent equity of INX News Pvt Ltd. Since the … FDI (foreign direct investment) (limits) did not allow (for) higher investment (more than 48 per cent) in (news) media (companies)… the entire exercise of sale of NewsX channel was undertaken to dissociate (it)…from INX Media Pvt Ltd. After sale of equity of INX News Pvt Ltd to Indi Media Pvt Ltd, (the former) was controlling only the entertainment channels, namely, 9X, 9XM (etc.) In the (case of) entertainment media, 100 per cent FDI is allowed. Therefore, by organizing the sale of NewsX channel to Indi Media Co Pvt Ltd funded by (the) Reliance group, the channel was held under its (Reliance’s) control, as… already established by way of equity holding and (what has been disclosed) in the transcripts of (conversations of) Niira Radia…simultaneously, New Silk Route was allowed a marching entry having controlling stakes in INX Media Pvt Ltd…”

 

The SFIO report then provides a table which indicates that: “the true story which Shri Raja (of RIL) tried to conceal….the majority stakes in INX Media Pvt Ltd (79.38 per cent) are in the hands of NSR-PE (New Silk Route – Private Equity) contrary to what Shri K R Raja tried to portray. Thus, the sale of NewsX was not organized to allow exit to NSR and the other promoters. The real reason was to introduce NSR as the controlling stakeholder in INX Media Pvt Ltd and this was not possible as long as the NewsX channel was in the control of INX Media Pvt Ltd (it being the holding company, INX News Pvt Ltd) … in order to allow controlling stakes to NSR in INX Media Pvt Ltd it was (of) utmost importance to turn it wholly into an entertainment channel….By dissociating NewsX from INX Media Pvt Ltd and to accomplish the sale of NewsX channel, another company named Indi Media Pvt Ltd was incorporated (on 27 November 2008) just a month before the date of sale of NewsX channel on 7 January 2009…”

 

Calling for a “thorough investigation” into the links between the Reliance group and New Silk Route, the SFIO report added: “Investigation of the sale of NewsX has revealed that the funds had been moved from Reliance Gas, Ornate Traders Pvt Ltd, Reliance Explorations, (and) Reliance Extrusions…by utilizing a maze of private companies to make investments in INX News Pvt Ltd. …

 

“Further investigation into these (corporate) entities has revealed that Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Limited (RGTIL) was incorporated on 19 March 2003 as a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited for transportation of gas from RIL’s gas fields from the KG (Krishna-Godavari) basin. On 18 August 2004, RGTIL, while it was still a 100 per cent subsidiary of RIL was granted approval by the Petroleum Ministry to transport 80 million units of gas per day from Kakinanda to Bharuch passing through four states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat…On 21 April 2005, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani quietly without any disclosure stripped RGTIL from RIL and converted into his personal property at a meagre price of just Rs 5 lakh.”

 

The SFIO document named the “maze of private companies” through which this had been done: Lordwest Invest & Trading, Shangrila Invest & Trading, Proline Invest, Jigna Fiscal, Vayudoot Invest & Trading, Yashasvi Holding and Anumati Mercantile. This “classic manoeuvre”, according to the SFIO document, enabled India’s richest man to convert a wholly-owned subsidiary of the country’s largest private corporate entity into his “personal property”.

 

It was pointed out that these companies had directors who were Reliance group employees and their registered office addresses were also the ones where other RIL group companies are registered — 84A Mittal Court, 505 Dalamal House, 147 Atlanta, which are located in and around Mumbai’s Nariman Point business district.

 

For more information, readers may read the full 35-page document and the two-page letter (both attached below) sent by an officer of the MCA to the SFIO director to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of the allegations that have been levelled.

 

 

 

 

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TV18 group to axe more than 350 employees #WTFnews

It appears to be in the process of doing so to a little over 300 employees across departments

Urvi Malvania  | Mumbai  August 17, 2013
TV18 Broadcast Ltd, the arm of Network18 Ltd which runs the channels CNBC-TV18CNBC AwaazCNN-IBNIBN7 and IBN Lokmat, is dismissing many of its staffers.

It appears to be in the process of doing so to a little over 300 employees across departments. Sources in the company say the bulk of those asked to go are from the CNN-IBN and IBN7 channels.

At the time of filing the report, people were still being handed termination letters; the parking lot at the Empire Business Centre was filled with tense employees. One of the terminated ones said, “We were called to the office and simply handed letters. Almost the entire crew at IBN7 has been asked to leave.”

Another employee said: “Those of us who have not been given the termination letters are in terror of being handed one at any moment.”

Executives in Independent Media Trust and the human resource personnel from the network reportedly sat at a round table, putting the termination letters in the respective envelopes and stamping these. “It almost looked like a post office, the way they were stamping letters in the conference room,” said an employee.

Reliance Industries has indirect control in the TV18 network by virtue of an investment of Rs 4,800 crore it made in Network18 through Independent Media Trust. Sources say the restructuring is taking place due to pressure for cutting employee cost as a percentage of the total cost.

An e-mailed query to a TV18 network spokesperson did not elicit any response.

A top source associated with the restructuring had said this proportion was much higher than the norm in international news channels.

Persons in the know says the news business at TV18 will be undergoing restructuring. When asked for details on the exercise, the TV18 and Network18 managements did not receive calls or respond to emails.

In July, Network18 set up Network18 Newsroom, which brought the digital and broadcast news entities under one unit. It has now been learnt that the English and Hindi channels will be integrated as part of the restructuring and if persons in the know are to be believed, Rajdeep Sardesai will be leading the new integrated unit.

Earlier this week, Dilip Venkatraman stepped down as chief executive officer of CNN-IBN and IBN7, citing a desire to pursue personal entrepreneurial ambitions. In his stead, Ajay Chacko heads the two channels.

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