Ranjona Banerji: Reliance takes over Network18/TV18. Now what?

30 May,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


As the rumour mills had been suggesting for some time, changes were going to happen in the TV18 group. But who would have known that the changes would be so drastic? The general impression was that the power pair of Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagorika Ghose would leave, especially after apparent instructions that Narendra Modi has to be praised at all times. Instead Reliance Industries which had first invested in TV18 and apparently changed its political direction has just bought the whole group out. The first casualty was the Group CEO Sai Kumar but the biggest casualty is perhaps the group’s founder Raghav Bahl.


When Caravan magazine did an investigation into TV18’s finances, they did not appear to be in the pink of health. When this website quoted the Caravan article, various representatives of TV18 were apparently upset. Now however, the holding guard at TV18 have all gone and the new dispensation has poured in Rs 4000 crore to buy out shareholders and run the organisation and its various properties.


The turn that CNN-IBN made from the centre of politics to the right was visible to most. According to a story in Scroll.In, Sagorika Ghose was asked to turn down her anti-Narendra Modi rhetoric. Earlier, we had been told that star TV personality Karan Thapar refused to be eased out and waiting till his contract expired after which he took his show to Headlines Today. So also Ashutosh of IBN7, who however then joined the Aam Aadmi Party.


Rajdeep Sardesai stopped being critical of Narendra Modi – who was still prime ministerial aspirant at the time. Bahl, according to Caravan, was very keen on Modi and at a conference organised by the group last year, lauded Modi who was its star invitee. Insiders quoted by Caravan said he wanted to start a foundation called “Think Right” and the conference would follow that name. However on objections from Ghose about “misinterpretation”, the name became “Think India”.


But all that was window dressing as TV18 jumped off the centre fence and turned right. This was most evident in its website firstpost.com which has made a speciality out of interpreting or re-dressing every move made by Narendra Modi and the BJP. It is not clear whether firstpost will be affected by this massive sweep-through by Reliance. Bahl has not been spared despite his change to the right. It is important to note that there is a difference between making an editorial decision to turn right – which is entirely justifiable – and changing political direction because of corporate and management pressures or ultimatums.


The grapevine says that Reliance will now run TV18 as it sees fit and this may not include whatever staff is left. Journalists like Gautam Chikarmane and BV Rao joined a Reliance digital wing recently and there are some murmurs – unconfirmed – that they will run the show at TV18. Given Reliance’s last foray into the media with The Observer – an unmitigated disaster where a newspaper became a PR vehicle for just one company and then died – the future looks bleak for TV18. However some feel that this Reliance is not that Reliance and so there is hope for TV18’s journalistic wings.


Be that as it may, direct corporate interference will not work for journalism and journalists. Whether this is the end of TV18 I do not know but it is certainly the end of TV18 as we have known it, warts and all.


This article from Scroll has all the details: http://www.scroll.in/article/665841/Rajdeep-and-Sagarika-to-resign-as-Reliance-takes-over-Network-18


And this press release from Reliance has all the other details: http://www.bseindia.com/xml-data/corpfiling/AttachLive/Reliance_Industries_Ltd_290514.pdf




The Mumbai Press Club will hold its Red Ink Awards on June 7. This year, Mrinal Pande has been selected for the Lifetime Achievement Award. Pande is the first woman who became editor of the daily Hindustan and recently retired as chairperson of Prasar Bharati. She was also founding president of the Indian Women’s Press Corps. The award includes a trophy, a citation and Rs 100,000.


Congratulations to Mrinal Pande and a great choice by the Mumbai Press Club!


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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Reliance takes over Network18/TV18. Now what?”

  1. Guest says:

    Unclear what the return on equity will be on this 4,000 crores.