Two views on the NDTV stake buy

26 Aug,2022

 

 

 

NDTV Stake Sale: What Next?

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorThe news of the Adani group acquiring a sizeable stake in NDTV has been the significant media highlight this week. And for good reason. When it comes to questioning the ruling establishment at the Centre, NDTV remains the last news network standing. In particular, the Hindi channel NDTV India’s star anchor Ravish Kumar has built a sizeable cult following for himself in the Left & Liberal sections of the population, with his unique style of commentary on the state of the nation. He’s incisive, often scathingly sarcastic, but always backed with solid research. In a community of anchors who are more than happy to toe the establishment line, Kumar comes across as a lone warrior. None of his colleagues at the NDTV channels have managed to match his towering persona either.

But the NDTV channels are not popular favorites. They have consistently rated poorly, which is not too surprising, given that the mood of the nation over the last decade is in sharp contrast to the NDTV approach. In our consumer work, we often find audiences describing NDTV channels as “Pakistani”, which sums up not just NDTV’s mass imagery in India, but also the state of Indian news media today, where anyone who’s not evidently pro-Right can be termed as ‘anti-national’.

But the NDTV network has managed to command a good price in the ad marketplace despite its low ratings. It has a legacy (including its founder Dr. Prannoy Roy) that dates to its Doordarshan days (remember The World This Week?). And that a significant (even if minority) section of brand marketers is left-of-center helps too.

Where does NDTV go from here is a premature question. The Adanis don’t have a majority stake in the network as of now, though they may push towards that in the future from what one understands. If that happens, one can expect the network to change sides, in terms of its ideological disposition. But it is difficult to see how any of the key faces of the channel’s current image, such as Dr. Roy or Kumar, will continue to be a part of the network in that case.

Journalists like Kumar always seem to find a way of making their voices heard, even if they have to move from television to digital, from well-budgeted reports to bootstrapped ones. There’s a certain swashbuckling quality to this brand of journalism, which thrives on adversity.

With the advent of social media and digital news brands, television news has lost its bearings over the last decade or so. While the eyeballs and hence the ad revenues continue to come, respect has been more elusive. Digital platforms, on the other hand, have experimented with more cutting-edge work, despite lower budgets and poor monetization models. While TV has become all about debates (Kumar is a rare anchor whose show is about reports than debates), online news platforms have filled in the space to fact-find, analyse and critique, important attributes that the media must have for a democracy to thrive.

The core NDTV viewer, hence, will not miss their news, even if the network’s management changed hands. He may have to just find another destination for it. But TV news will be poorer, because it will lose whatever little heterogeneity it currently has. And that’s not a happy thought.

 

Shailesh Kapoor is Founder and CEO, Ormax Media. He writes on MxMIndia on Fridays. His views here are personal

 

What’s the future for NDTV?

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona Banerji“Journalists at NDTV have a unique opportunity to examine their own work and their stances. There is a small world outside TV and outside mainstream media which does still do real journalism. It is not too late for any of them to work on those,” writes Ranjona Banerji

The Adani attempt to buy out the news channel NDTV is being presented as a hostile takeover by NDTV. And NDTV fans as well as media watchers see it as a general attempt by BJP and Modi government sympathisers to control the media and the general narrative.

We know that point 2 has been the background music since the Modi government came to power.

We also know that the Adani Group is very sensitive to criticism and has gone out of its was to use SLAPP tactics to harass journals and journalists who dare to discuss their problems with debt, and the favours it has got and so on.

Once you get past the general background chatter of whether NDTV was liberal enough or critical enough of the Modi government, what are you left with?

For one, the tragedy that of all the television channels in India, NDTV was the only one seen as being critical of the Modi regime and the BJP. This is in spite of the fact that NDTV is nowhere near as critical as some sections of the print media and definitely nowhere near various digital platforms. Several of its anchors present the BJP with more opportunity than other parties to present their “views” and some anchors have not yet understood that a journalist’s role is to question, regardless of your inclinations.

There is also the sentimental background that NDTV was the first of India’s private TV channels and several older viewers have been attached to it since then.

Several who watch NDTV’s Hindi news channel bemoan the potential loss of Ravish Kumar who has been the bravest of all NDTV journalists when it comes to questioning those in power.

While the legal and financial battles continue at their own pace, and the owners and promoters of NDTV negotiate, the journalists at NDTV have a unique opportunity to examine their own work and their stances. There is a small world outside TV and outside the mainstream media which does still do real journalism. It is not too late for any of them to work on those. The internet and the world of streaming offers any number of opportunities. The problem is the money. In the current situation, it’s never going to be as much income as established TV.

The other problem is reach. Where these big names and stars who have become household familiars can leverage their popularity to draw in viewers and therefore possibly money.

Those of us on the outside of big game (fake) journalism know how tough it is. But it is not impossible.

Cowardice and fear of losing influence is a folly (okay, bad pun, I know I know) because greatness beckons on the other side.

Maybe Adani’s attempt to take over and potentially destroy NDTV can be a seminal point, a turning point for Indian journalism. Especially for TV. It tells you that no one is safe. It tells you that our business models are shot to pieces.

It also tells you how little the general public understands. I see a lot of carping that the media is only after money. That is the rank stupidity of sections of our audience who somehow believe that newsgathering does not cost anything and that people who work in the media do not deserve to make a living. But all right, let’s ignore these riled up innocents.

Instead, we wait and watch. Not for what the Adani Group may do to NDTV. Several such buyouts in the past have destroyed media organisations. From the Ambanis (via Raj Salgaoncar) and the Observer to Vijaypat Singhania and Indian Post to Subhas Chandra and DNA. And several media organisations have wilfully destroyed themselves like India Today.

Will NDTV be one more tragic story of a good (by TV standards) media house biting the dust or will its employees wake up and put up a fight?

I’m for the fight.

Yeah, maybe there is an optimist somewhere left inside me.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal.

 

 

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