So what will NDTV be under Gautam Adani?

29 Nov,2022

 

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiIndia’s fastest growing businessman Gautam Adani has almost closed the deal to buy the news channel NDTV.

Adani has stretched his wings, with a little bit of help from his powerful friends, to various industries from airports to mining to solar power, far from his original bastions of ports and edible oils.

There has been much ferment over this hostile takeover because for many in India, NDTV has remained the last practitioner of Indian TV’s version journalism, as all its competitors have fallen in line with government diktats. In a sense, NDTV was the forerunner of free non-state-controlled broadcast news in India. Most of the older generation of television presenters were trained by NDTV, and that is where the first star anchors emerged from.

Dr Prannoy Roy was a major influence on how TV would be conducted in India in the early days, after he and his wife Radhika Roy started NDTV in the mid-1980s. His show The World This Week for Doordarshan was very popular.

The question now being asked over and over again by loyal viewers is what will happen to NDTV after Adani takes over? What will happen to Ravish Kumar, the fearless anchor who looks after NDTV’s Hindi news channel, the only TV journalist who does not kowtow to government forces?

Why Adani wants a media outlet of his own is self-evident. His international press is not that good, and that sometimes spills over to India. The general assumption therefore will be one more propaganda channel which focuses on positive publicity for Adani companies and Adani himself. This is how many or most industrialist-owned media houses behave. Earlier the result journalism-wise would be disastrous because people expected some sort of basic standards – the collapse of the Observer papers after the Salgaocar-Ambani takeover is a case study here.

But since 2014, assisted by a helpful government which demands total loyalty from media houses, the Ambani takeover of the News18 group has been a success. Not obviously when it comes to journalism but definitely when it comes to numbers.

Hardly surprising then that Adani wants his own mouthpiece.

What is amusing however – because I am cynical – is that in an interview to the Financial Times, Adani made the following comment: “Why can’t you support one media house to become independent and have a global footprint?… India does not have one single (outlet) to compare to Financial Times or Al Jazeera.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/25/indian-tycoon-defends-hostile-takeover-bid-for-broadcaster

 

Now that’s an interesting standard for an Indian mainstream media which currently struggles to get even the basics correct. Neither the Financial Times nor Al Jazeera specialise in the sort of nightly high-decibel battles which characterise Indian television. The Financial Times is a serious pink paper, of the sort which today’s media owners scoff at. Indian news consumers, the general feeling goes, are largely thick, easily excitable and undiscerning and thus can only appreciate news in the form of a soap opera.

There is nothing new in pandering to the lowest common denominator. It is an old media policy. But neither FT nor Al Jazeera fall quite into that News of the World, National Enquirer category. India Today TV recently ran a show where they objected to a tweet by actress Richa Chadha on the Indian Armed Forces. For their show, they ran photos of Chadha in swimwear. That works to belittle women, to put Chadha in her place as it were, and appeal to their crass audience. Actor Akshay Kumar objected to Chadha’s tweet, but the news of that was not accompanied by images of Kumar in revealing swimwear.

Is Gautam Adani making it clear that this is not the sort of future he envisages for his version of NDTV?

Well, you can hope as much as you like but the truth is likely to be elsewhere. In the same FT interview, Adani made this remark: “Independence means is government has something wrong, you say it’s wrong”.

And Adani also said this: that the media should have the “courage” to back the government when it is right.

There you have it ladies and gentlemen, clear intent from the tycoon himself.

 

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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