TV9 “chairman, CEO and editor” Ravi Prakash, who shared the stage with prime minister Narendra Modi at the launch of ‘TV9 Bharatvarsh’ just 40 days ago, has been shown the door by the network’s new owners whom he, ironically, brought in to buy the company from its original promoter six months ago.
An official spokesman (see statement, above) confirmed that the board of directors, under the new management, had okayed the “removal” of Ravi Prakash as wholetime director on May 8, and an EGM of shareholders on May 10, had consented to the move.
Ravi Prakash reportedly did not attend either meeting.
Ravi Prakash, who owns 8.5 per cent in the holding company, Associated Broadcasting Company Pvt Ltd (ABCPL), however, shot off a “resignation” letter to the board in which he lashed out at them, calling them “representatives of political honchos who are out there to devour “EVERY” journalist and independent media house today”.
It is not clear who the “political honchos” Ravi Prakash refers to are—whether they are in Hyderabad or Delhi—but the removal/resignation of the pioneering TV journalist caps a dramatic couple of days in one of India’s most successful news networks, which has a presence in Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi and English (News9).
On Thursday, May 9, the residence and offices of Ravi Prakash were searched after two complaints of forgery, cheating and conspiracy had been lodged on April 24 and 30.
The headlines in today’s newspapers in Hyderabad said it all:
“Ravi Prakash out of TV9“, screams the Telugu daily Sakshi.
“TV9 CEO booked for forgery, quizzed,” reads The Times of India.
“TV9 CEO forged papers, gave false info,” says Telangana Today.
“Forgery case: cops conduct searches at TV9 office,” says The New Indian Express.
The police searches had been followed by rumours of Ravi Prakash absconding; of his arrest; of his seeking anticipatory bail; of his passport being seized. But he put paid to those rumours by appearing ‘live’ on air on Thursday night to assert that he was very much in charge.
Depending on who you believe, behind the dramatic exit is a boardroom tussle over control of a powerful, multilingual network, with the unseen hands of ambitious politicians and businessmen guiding it from Hyderabad to New Delhi.
TV9 promoter Srini Raju, a cousin of Ramalinga Raju of the now-defunct Satyam Infotech, had been trying to cash out for a long time now. Potential suitors included The Times of India group, NewsX, and the usual suspect, Rajeev Chandrasekhar of Asianet.
The charitable view is that Ravi Prakash, who apparently got the My Home group, and Megha Engineering and Constructions—to shell out Rs 460 crore for a 90 per cent stake, to stave off Rajeev Chandrasekhar, wanted to run the company like he did in the past: independently, without any editorial interference.
The new management in the last six months is believed to have had a hands-off approach like Srini Raju, except that, as an active investor, it wanted its own men on the board, which Ravi Prakash is alleged to have resisted by forging signatures, a charge which even his detractors find hard to believe.
“The new owners wanted to know the company better. Ravi was not used to dealing with people like these,” says an insider. “How can a minority shareholder dictate terms to a 90% shareholder?”
The buzz in Hyderabad is that at least one of the two new owners is extremely close to the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS).
TV9 had initially been valued at around Rs 1,200 crore but that valuation was driven down by a boycott of the channel by cable owners in the Hyderabad/Telangana region in protest at the depiction of TRS politicians.
The conspiracy theory is that the change of ownership of TV9 and the change of helmsmanship has all to do with the national ambitions of Telangana politicians. Ravi Prakash, by this reading, had been told that he could stay on for six months after the change of hands but he was now insistent on clinging on.
The backdated sale of shares to Telugu actor Sivaji, who did a sting operation titled ‘Operation Garuda‘ to show how the BJP was trying to overthrow the Chandrababu Naidu government in Andhra Pradesh by buying up TDP MLAs, like in Karnataka, seems to have muddied the waters further.
The matter is now before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and slated to come up on May 16.
Against this background buzz, TV9 launched its Hindi channel TV9 Bharatvarsh on March 31, where Narendra Modi came and spoke. The new owners, according to one source, was either not informed of, or not invited to, the new channel’s launch.
Modi was received by Ravi Prakash (second from right, in picture), and editorial consultant Hemant Sharma who had left Rajat Sharma‘s India TV under the cloud of the medical college scam.
As the PM and CEO walk into the venue, Modi tells Ravi Prakash that he had recruited people whose were congenitally ill-disposed towards him.
“We are bringing in changes.” replies Ravi Prakash.
To that extent, the removal/resignation marks a stunning denouement for a competent but colourful journalist.
TV9 Kannada head Mahendra Mishra has been appointed TV9 interim CEO.