Who broke the story of the troubles of the Zee conglomerate which led to a notional crash in stock prices by as much as Rs 14,000 crore on January 25, which then led to its founder “Dr” Subhash Chandra‘s extraordinary mea culpa?
Or, was it the more detailed reports in The Wire, by Ghulam Shaik Budan and Anuj Srivas, of January 24 that did it (this, and this)? Obviously, given its proximity to the meltdown on D-street, Wire gets the bragging rights.
However, in his apology, Chandra blames “negative forces” acting against his company from much earlier than the ET or Wire stories.
“From May / June 2018 onwards a negative force which was acting against our grip as promoters became strongly active. This was followed by some anonymous letters being sent to all Bankers, NBFCs, Mutual Funds, Shareholders, etc….
“I must also mention that there is no systematic protection against the insidious attackon us by the mentioned negative forces, but we will continue to seek the support of the system in order to thoroughly investigate the matter.”
For its part, Economic Times graciously acknowledges that the “immediate trigger” for the sharp drop in share prices of Zee Enterprises (which fell over 26%) and Dish TV (33%) and Essel Propack (16%) appeared to be The Wire reports, but recorded that some of the developments had also been reported by ET earlier.
Notwithstanding that, Subhash Chandra’s eye-popping apology to his creditors—banks, NBFCs and mutual funds—marks an inflection point for a media baron regularly ranked among India’s richest, and extremely close to the ruling BJP, not to mention the RSS.
A connection with demonetisation, howsoever feeble, for such a loyal soldier of the sangh has its consequences.
That something was in the air became apparent through an interview Subhash Chandra gave Vikas Dhoot of The Hindu in September last year in which he launched into Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani.
“Now, this gentleman (referring to Mukesh Ambani) has a different style of doing business. We will fight this out too. We will still stick to our ethical business practices. But maybe their thought process won’t work here….
“I called up to congratulate [TRAI Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma] and told him ‘Everyone is saying that Reliance has got you this extension. Your name is getting associated too much with this and this shouldn’t be the case.’
Is RIL possibly the “negative force” in Subhash Chandra’s mind?
Or is there more than one negative force?
The Economic Times‘ scoop of the #demonetisation links of Nityank was preceded by an even more surprising lead story in The Times of India in November 2018.
ToI reported that Chandra was ready to sell up to half his family’s 42% stake—and that among the names of potential buyers was Mukesh Ambani’s RIL.
At the time, it was suggested that Chandra was merely seeking a strategic partner to help transform it into a “tech-media company”. His apology letter, however, makes it clear that it was to pare the debt of his defaulting companies.
“I have also given my best to expedite the stake sale of ZEE Entertainment. In fact, I have just returned back from London, last night itself, after a series of positive meetings with potential suitors.”
All things considered, Zee’s fall is a stunning denouement for India’s earliest satellite TV broadcaster, which also has print presence through the DNA newspaper which it launched with the Dainik Bhaskar group.
I am happy that JSPL & Naveen Jindal have withdrawn FIR alleging extortion with Delhi Police against Zee & it’s editors, similarly Zee has agreed to withdraw all complaints & cases against JSPL & Naveen Jindal. I wish Naveen very best in his life.
More recently, Sudhir Chaudhary and his co-editors wrote a cringing letter to Rahul Gandhi pleading for an end to the boycott of the Zee channels by the Congress party.
“Zee Media is a media conglomerate that represents, cherishes and fosters the values of ‘Bharat’. The ‘Bharat’ we refer to is not India (comprising of the rich/elitsh/pseudo liberalists) but the Bharat which is thousands of years old…
“This encompasses the idea Vasudaiva Kutumbakam of Hindutva (not the Hindu religion but the Hndu way of life)…,” read portions of the letter.
Steve Bannon, the former investment banker who was editor-in-chief of the right-wing US website Breitbart before he became a key architect of Donald Trump‘s 2016 presidential election victory, has been arrested, masked and charged with swindling nearly $1 million (approximately Rs 7.5 crore) in the name of building the wall on the US-Mexico border.
But less than a week ago, on August 15, Steve Bannon, seen to be the unseen hand guiding right-wing demagogues across the world, was grandstanding on WION, the ‘World Is ONe” news channel launched by Subhash Chandra, the Zee founder who became a Rajya Sabha member with the help of the BJP (and invisible ink).
On India’s 74th Independence Day, WION’s editor-in-chief Sudhir Chaudhary, who himself spent quality time in jail on charges of allegedly trying to extort former Congress MP Naveen Jindal in 2012, tweeted the Steve Bannon exclusive.
In his intro to the August 15 simulcast, Jack Maxey, the anchor of The Pandemic Warroom, waxes eloquent on India, the “largest multi-cultural democracy in history”, “led by their great prime minister Narendra Modi, fantastic friend of Donald Trump“.
“Today, for a special day for us particularly and a special day for the world, we are going to be on WION channel, one of the greatest news channels that you can watch if you are trying to understand what is going on in the region.
“Every night they have got a fantastic programme called Gravitas, I recommend everybody take a look at it. Americans are trying to catch this great TV station. They are on Dish 765.
“We are going to switch to Steve K. Bannon, the man of the hour”
Steve Bannon, for his part, acknowledges his gratitude to WION:
“I couldn’t be prouder or happier. I really want to thank WION for distributing this in India, one of the great stations, Gravitas is a great show, watch it all the time.
“In 2014, when I was at Breitbart, I had a radio show on Sirius XM. When Narendra Modi won in 2014, I said he was the Ronald Reagan of India. Now he has become Trump before Trump. He has shown the world what leadership is”
The Trump-Modi reference is presumably in relation to India’s stand on China after the loss of land and lives in Ladakh: the ban on Chinese apps, the cancellation of Chinese projects, etc.
Although he has fallen out of Trump’s orbit, at least publicly, Steve Bannon is seen to have been a prime player behind the US President’s anti-China rhetoric, and has been a major votary of calling Coronavirus a “Chinese virus”.
In late March, Palki Sharma Upadhyay, the host of Gravitas on WION, claimed she had been the subject of trolling for reporting China’s criminal negligence on the Coronavirus outbreak, “esp from blue-ticked activists.”
Let the record show, Twitter is not available in China since 2009.
Gravitas on WION commands suspiciously abnormal viewership on YouTube.
The headlines of some of its shows leave little to the imagination on its inclination and motivation:
Is China debt trapping Bangladesh?
Chinese avenues to invest in India are shrinking
Is China running out of food?
China’s state mouthpiece backs Biden presidency
China’s biggest purge since Mao
Chinese-made airport leaks in Islamabad
WION is not the only news outlet on which Steve Bannon has been showering his love in the second term of Narendra Modi.
On April 21, a month before the Chinese aggression in Ladakh became public, but three months after the Coronavirus outbreak, Bannon appeared on Times Now owned by The Times of India group, laying out the direction India needs to take vis-a-vis China.
In an interview with Rahul Shivshankar, the channel’s head, Bannon said India had a big role to play in forming strategic alliances and stopping the Chinese from controlling the Eurasian landmass.
“To be brutally frank, the most important countries in this [alliance] are Japan, India, United States, United Kingdom, maybe Brazil. That’s the new coalition to confront the Chinese Communist Party. Obviously, there will be Germany, France and the rest of Europe.
“India is the key that picks the lock. India is the most important. India takes its rightful place as the central part of this strategy to stop the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing from controlling the Euroasian landmass. They are trying to use the One-Belt-One-Road, the Huawei 5G rollout, the predatory capitalism of the old British East Company.
“India can see it every day. Modi can see it. This is why the free men and women in India become the bulwark of democracy to stand up to this.”
In his “outro”, Rahul Shivshankar extends a warm hand to Steve Bannon: “Let us hope we can meet up and do more of these conversations.”
The BJP twitter joyfully handle retweeted the Steve Bannon’s certificate to Modi: “PM Modi is a hero, he has stood up to the predatory capitalism. He understands history and can’t be bought off! He is a symbol for the world.”
The choice of media outlets of Steve Bannon in India, and the timing of his appearances, are a dead giveaway on the manner in which the global far-right is reshaping the “narrative” in India using embedded sections of mainstream media.
Bannon, in fact, had appeared on WION, on May 31, 2019, within a fortnight of Narendra Modi‘s election victory last year, offering his thoughts on “how US needs India to counter China’s hegemony”.
Sudhir Chaudhary was the esteemed host.
Inter alia, Bannon bloviates on the significance of the Modi win.
“This is why this victory is so important. So important to other leaders in the world. What Modi did is what Reagan did. Reagan spoke to the common man and they connected.
“The media tried to destroy Reagan, they tried to destroy Modi. The same exact media companies that attacked Modi attacked Reagan 30-40 years ago. Modi did not flinch, he did not back off, he did not apologise, in fact he doubled down and tripled down.”
Naturally, the Bannon-Chaudhary interview got wide play on the channel with the host of Gravitas, Palki Sharma Upadhyay, doing the honours.
In the May 2019 interview with WION, Steve Bannon appeared alongside Shalabh Kumar, an Indian-American industrialist who took a group of US legislators, including the far-right Newt Gingrich, to meet Narendra Modi in 2013 when he was Gujarat chief minister.
‘Shaili’ also worked to get Modi’s visa ban lifted by the United States.
A 2016 profile of Shalabh Kumar in The Telegraph, Calcutta, called him the “common bhakt” of both Modi and Trump.
Indian officials were quoted in that story as saying Shalabh Kumar was also “responsible for bringing 50 US Congressmen and Congresswomen to Modi’s September 2014 address at New York’s Madison Square Garden”
(In October 2016, NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain credited Shalabh Kumar with fetching him the first “interview” with Donald Trump.)
In the Telegraph profile, Shalabh Kumar claimed the wall with Mexico would be an “electronic one”.
With Steve Bannon arrested for embezzling funds for the wall in a “comically flagrant scam”, that claim takes on an added meaning. The wall with Mexico was clearly an “electronically wired one”.
Farooq Abdullah, Praful Patel, Kamal Haasan, Junaid Mattu,Hardik Patel
Gen Bikram Singh, Justice Dipak Misra
Mukesh Ambani, Uday Kotak, Sanjiv Goenka
Jaggi Vasudev alias Sadhguru, Baba Ramdev
Prasoon Joshi, Sanjeev Sanyal, Raian Karanjawala, Ankhi Das
Gautam Gambhir, P.V. Sindhu, Babita Phogat
Interestingly, the industrialist Sanjiv Goenka of the RP-SanjivGoenka group, which owns Open magazine and is always interested in media buys, interviews finance minister Arun Jaitley, a task he previously performed on the day of the budget last year, which was shown live on, yes, Republic.
Among the listed sponsors of the event was Facebook, whose public policy director Ankhi Das is featured on page four with Jaitley’s bum-chum, the lawyer Raian Karanjawala.
Karanjawala’s firm represents the fallen editor M.J. Akbar in his defamation case against former Mint Lounge editor and columnist Priya Ramani. Facebook also sponsors a “show” on Republic.
Little wonder the message below, purporting to be the proceedings of a meeting of the National Broadcasters’ Association, appeared on the WhatsApp timeline of media folk yesterday.
“Congress has been boycotting Republic and has been barring Republic reporter from press conferences. Arnab (Goswami)and Rajat (Sharma) wanted to pass a resolution today saying if a party boycotts one channel, then all channels should boycott that party. To which NDTV, ABP said we have been boycotted by BJP for so long. Where was this solidarity then? Arnab said he didn’t know this had happened to them. Rajat is speaking to everybody individually for consensus and joint statement.”
Little wonder also that Subhash Chandra‘s Zee group has sent out this reported letter to the Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Subhash Chandra‘s Zee has, like Raghav Bahl‘s TV18, always been a smart valuations player, forming subsidiaries, leaking information, etc to keep the stock in the news and drive its value up.
In September 2018, Chandra gave a long, supersoft interview to The Hindu, apropos nothing, in which he railed against Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Jio, even going so far as to suggest that the telecom regulatory chief R.S. Sharma had got an extension thanks to Ambani.
The penny drops today with news that Chandra wants to divest and Reliance may be one of the potential bidders.
In his first formal powwow in 20 years, in a special issue on Marwaris in the business magazine Forbes India, the chairman of the Express group, talks fondly of his grandfather, the late Ramnath Goenka, and even poses with his son Anant Goenka in a photograph (above) in the paper’s presses.
Viveck Goenka tells Forbes India:
# “Ramnathji taught us never to compromise on editorial values and freedom… to be fearless and not to be aligned to any political party. I have had a whole lot of people threatening me.”
# “There was one thing clear about Ramnathji. ‘If I have an end-goal, I don’t care how I reach that…’ I agree with him but not everyone does.”
# “I see myself as a proper Tamilian Brahmin [Goenka grew up in Tamil Nadu], that’s my upbringing.”
The interviews give an inside view of the austere and conservative business and management ethic of the original media Marwaris, which later generations are eagerly dismantling.
# Shobhana Bhartia: “When we started innovative advertisements, my father [K.K. Birla] was taken aback. ‘No, we can’t do this. You can’t affect page one, can’t place something in the middle of it.’ I can understand that his generation was not used to these things. He felt colour pages would be more like a comic book.”
# Anant Goenka: “[As a Marwari, I have] an inherent drive to spend wisely and to build wealth. Whether large or small, [the 2,500 sq ft bachelor pad he bought after running up hefty hotel bills] is our own. It’s a Marwari thing. We are obsessed with appreciation.”
# Punit Goenka: “It is clear that we are in the business to make money; we are not here for charity or for building power or influence.”
# Gulab Kothari: “If you borrow money for growth, I believe you can’t reverse that decision. The question is, do I give my children 100 per cent of the business or leave them to deal with an outsider who I sold a stake to? My view is, expand less and gradually… we don’t need to jump the gun by taking debt.”
It speaks for the level of distrust that the media has managed to earn for itself that the front page of the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar carries an emblem in Hindi (right) alongside the masthead, in the space usually reserved for ear-panel advertisements, proclaiming “No Paid News”.
Two years ago, the Bombay newspaper DNA, in which the Dainik Bhaskar group held a stake (which it later divested in favour of Subhash Chandra‘s Zee) too carried a similar logo.
When The Hindu started printing an edition from Mohali in 2011, its then editor-in-chief N. Ram made a front-page declaration that it would not serve up news that somebody else has paid for”.
Dainik Bhaskar‘s “No Paid News” emblem, however, does not appear in Divya Bhaskar, the Gujarati paper owned by the group.
The paper was in the news last Sunday when it carried a front-page, eight-column flyer-interview by Dhimant Purohit on Sunday, quoting the State’s chief minister Narendra Modi as saying that India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had not attended the funeral of home minister Vallabhbhai Patel.
Dainik Bhaskar too carried the Divya Bhaskar story as a page-one, eight-column flyer, but two days later, Divya Bhaskar later printed a front-page “clarification”
Soon after the clarification, Modi tweeted, “Divya Bhaskar has clarified on a statement about Sardar Patel’s funeral wrongly attributed to me. I thank them for it.”
Thirteen out of India Today magazine’s 2013 ranking of the 50 most powerful people in India have interests in the media, but only two of them (former Indian Express editor Arun Shourie, Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, Indian Expresseditor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta) are pure-play journalists.
The chairman of the press council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, is a new entry at No. 50, just as Gupta is at No. 45, Hindustan Times bosswoman Shobhana Bhartia at No. 39 and Star India CEO Uday Shankar at No. 26.
No. 1: Mukesh Ambani, chairman, Reliance Industries and “virtual owner” of TV18 (up from No. 3 in 2012)
No. 4: Kumaramangalam Birla, chairman Aditya Birla group, and 27.5% stake holder in Living Media (up from No. 5): “sings Hindi film songs, although only in close family circles”
Aditya Sinha, the editor-in-chief of the Bombay newspaper DNA has resigned, within weeks of former Times of India response chief Bhaskar Das joining the Zee group, which now wholly owns the paper. (Sinha’s departure had been preceded by the exit of K.U Rao, the long-serving publisher of DNA.)
Coming at a time when the Zee group is involved in a messy battle with Jindal Steel, with two of the television channel’s editors behind bars for alleged extortion and the group’s own Subhash Chandra and his son Punit Goenka being interrogated, Sinha’s exit has set tongues wagging.
On his microblog account, Sinha has tweeted that he left the paper he edited for two years to concentrate on writing novels. But in an interview with the media website MxM, he leaves little to the imagination as to why he moved on (update: an inference since denied by Sinha).
On the timing of his resignation: “It could have been done at some other time, but why should I follow other people’s timelines?”
On his replacement: “Ravi Joshi, the recently appointed Mumbai resident editor, suddenly finds himself incharge. Bhaskar Das may find an alternative if he can convince someone from his old place of employment to join.”
On DNA‘s upcoming redesign: “The paper is going through a slight redesign because Bhaskar Das wants to change the look-and-feel of the paper to a template that is familiar to us all. He is keen on an edit page, so I guess my departure strengthens his hands in some ways.”
On his lowpoints as editor: “The only lows were realizing that people working in the company did not even read your newspaper! It shows you that most non-journalists in the media industry have zero passion for their jobs.”
Twelve media barons in Forbes India‘s list of the 100 richest Indians are worth $54.6 billion, in other words Rs 2,962,530,000,000.
There are five pure-play media barons in the Forbes list: Subhash Chandra of Zee (total worth $2.9 billion) at No. 22, Kalanidhi Maran of Sun ($2.8 billion) at No. 24, Indu Jain of The Times of India ($1.9 billion) at No. 31, Shobhana Bharatia of Hindustan Times ($620 million) at No. 93 and Ramesh Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar ($580 million) at No. 95,
There are seven others with partial media interests: Mukesh Ambani of TV18-ETV ($21 billion) at No. 1, Shashi and Ravi Ruia of TimeOut ($8.1 billion) at No. 8, Kumar Mangalam Birla of Living Media ($7.8 billion) at No. 10, Anil Ambani of Bloomberg ($6 billion) at No. 11, Rajan Raheja of Outlook* ($2.2 billion) at No. 29 and Sanjiv Goenka of Open ($725 million) at No. 80.
The Forbes special issue features a four-page profile of Satyan Gajwani, the son-in-law of The Times of India‘s bossman Samir Jain and CEO of Times Internet Limited (TIL), the group’s digital arm.
# Samir Jain told Gajwani that he really should think about coming to India. “He said a lot of strategic decisions are going to be made in next six months that may have long term impact, so you should be part of them.”
# “Fortunately, Trishla’s dad was very progressive, both in terms of intellect and culturally. He was convinced that we would have married anyways. He said, you are already my son for all practical purposes. So I moved here as her boyfriend and lived with them in Delhi for six months. And then when I was comfortable, we got engaged, and a year-and-a-half later, we got married in 2011.”
# “I have the autonomy to make a big change in our culture and processes. It’s partially because I am the family.”
# That Gajwani has come into Times Internet Limited at the top, as CEO, has had many people saying his success was not earned. That includes his own father. “My dad says you should work your way up a company, slog it out for five years first, so he’s like, you’ve just got put in this position so soon.”
# “In India there is a hierarchical perception: They will agree because I am the boss. That is not what I want, my intention is to stimulate debate.”
# “Digital media is different from other media. Most media companies suck at it.”
# Trishla is now carrying their baby and in a few months, they’ll be parents. “So I have got four more months of being able to work very hard and then life goes normal. He does not want to ‘outsource’ parenting. “I am excited to have kids, but if it’s too much to handle then I can just give them to Samir Uncle.”
In turn, Zee says it will sue Jindal Steel for Rs 150 crore for defaming the network by holding a press conference, releasing a CD containing video evidence of the reverse-sting, and making allegations of extortion against it and its editorial staff.
Meanwhile, The Times of India group, whose business paper The Economic Times and its advertorial supplements like Bombay Times and Delhi Times, were happily mentioned in passing by Chaudhary and Ahluwalia as indulging in “paid news” in the Jindal “reverse-sting” says Zee will hear from them.
Not surprisingly, Times CEO Ravi Dhariwal was on the mat at a CII event on Monday, with Amit Khanna of Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Entertainment saying his company had been asked to approach Medianet by TOI for coverage of an film festival.
The last bit of news, published in the gossip column of the Indian Express on Tuesday, has been happily reproduced by First Post, whose parent organisation TV 18 is now part of the Mukesh Ambani group, as evidence of the “media-corporate war”.
Swapan Dasgupta on the silence of much of the media on the Zee News-Jindal Steel extortion case, in which the editorial staff of the Subhash Chandra-owned channel allegedly demanded Rs 100 crore in lieu of advertisements from the steel major to not publish stories in the coal scam, in The Pioneer, Delhi:
“The media didn’t react to the JSPL sting with the same measure of breathless excitement that greets every political corruption scandal because it is aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg. A thorough exploration of the media will unearth not merely sharp business practices but even horrifying criminality….
“Since the Press Council of India chairman Justice (retired) Markandey Katju is desperate to make a mark, he would do well to suo moto establish a working group to inquire into journalistic ethics. He could travel to a small State in western India where there persistent rumours that those who claim to be high-minded crusaders arm-twisted a Chief Minister into bankrolling an event as the quid pro quo for not publishing an investigation into some dirty practices.
“The emphasis these days is on non-publishing. One editor, for example, specialised in the art of actually commissioning stories, treating it in the proper journalistic way and even creating a dummy page. This dummy page would be sent to the victim along with a verbal ‘demand notice’. Most of them paid up. This may be a reason why this gentleman’s unpublished works are thought to be more significant than the few scribbles that reached the readers and for which he received lots of awards.”
In The Hindu, Aman Sethi profiles Subhash Chandra Agrawal, the tetile merchant whose use of the right to infomration (RTI ) Act unceasingly shapes the news agenda.
Before he donned his current role, Agrawal had entered the Guinness book of records for the most number of letters to the editor of newspapers and magazines:
“His first letter, published in Dainik Hindustan in 1967, was about a bus conductor who pocketed his money without issuing a ticket. Officials of the Delhi Transport Corporation apologised. Emboldened, Agrawal wrote another letter, then another, then another till 3,699 of his letters were published, a feat that won him a place in the Guinness World Records in 2006.
“I sat in my shop and composed letters during lean hours,” he says. “I bought the Indian Newspaper Society’s address book and printed stickers with the newspaper names and addresses.” Each week, he typed out letters, stuck the addresses on envelopes and mailed them. When a letter was published, he made clippings and dispatched them to the authorities concerned.
The perils of cross-media ownership are obvious and the Bombay daily DNAdemonstrates it in ample measure today on its business pages.
The news-you-can-use story is ostensibly aimed at empowering TV viewers on the various options before them as the country’s four metros go digital from July 1. It lists the comparative advantages of Tata Sky, Airtel and Videocon D2H settop boxes.
But the “news” item carries what amounts to an advertisement for Dish TV, which costs the least, which allows unlimited recording, and which of course is owned by Subhash Chandra, who started DNA in collaboration with Dainik Bhaskar but is now said to be inching closer to taking complete charge.
There has been plenty of buzz in recent days that the Congress-led UPA government has quietly begun hitting back at the media for the manner in which it has exposed the scams and scandals, and for the proactive manner in which it backed the middle-class led “Arnab Spring”.
There have been rumours, for instance, of the Union information and broadcasting ministry actually proposing a ceiling on the number of minutes a news channel can show a specific news event and so on. Now, as if to show that the messenger is indeed being wilfully targetted, these two stories have emerged in the last two days.
Exhibit B: DNAeditor Aditya Sinha‘s column, in which he links a 10-day stoppage of government advertisements to his “mass-circulating” paper to the paper’s stand in the Anna Hazare episode.
“We advised ad-sales to seek an appointment with I&B minister Ambika Soni. It was a pleasant surprise when the ad-sales executives immediately got a slot to meet the minister.
“Soni was pleasant enough. She told our guys she was unaware of any DAVP action; but in any case the government was rationalizing the flow of ads to English and language newspapers.
“Her body language, according to the ad-sales team, suggested otherwise. And then, during a general chat about the newspaper, she came to the point: she said that DNA ought to look at its coverage over the past few weeks and introspect….
Soni’s statement led us to infer that our Anna Hazare coverage was being punished by a suspension of government ads, and that Soni met our ad executives just to ensure the point was driven home.”
The TV and newspaper coverage of the growing anti-corruption movement has been singularly personality-driven.
In fact, it is almost as if there is just one man behind it all—the 74-year-old Anna Hazare—and the four five other civil society members giving him company on the Lokpal joint drafting committee: the lawyers Prashant and Shanti Bhushan, the former top cop Kiran Bedi and the former Supreme Court judge, Santosh Hegde, and the former IRS officer Arvind Kejriwal.
The Indian Express reveals some of the other faces and brains behind the campaign, including that of a former journalist of the Subhash Chandra-owned Zee News—Manish Sisodia–who was arrested alongside Hazare and was the first to come out of Tihar Jail on Tuesday night.
The website of public cause research foundation (of which Kejriwal and Sisodia are founder-members) also lists former TV news reporter Abhinandan Sekhri, who now writes political satire for NDTV shows such as Gustakhi Maaf and The Great Indian Political Tamasha, and Aswathi Muralidharan, a mass communications post-graduate who worked in a business magazine, as being part of the team.
Five years and Rs 1,100 crore later, writes Rohin Dharmakumar evocatively citing the 1961 film Guns of Navarone, DNA’s original ambition lies in tatters, although the “theory” was perfectly feasible.
# DNA’s Bombay readership is down 15% from its 2009 peak, while The Times of India’s is 2.5 larger.
# DNA’s ad rates are one-third ToI’s on paper, but closer to one-seventh due to discounting.
# DNA’s revenue was Rs 148 crore last year, up 22% over the year before, but still Rs 70 crore short of covering its operating costs.
# DNA is now a distant No.3 in Bombay and Bangalore to Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle, respectively, and both are reportedly close to dislodging it from that position.
# Only current executive editor R. Jagannathan remains from DNA’s original star cast, many of whom were lured from The Times of India and hired at high salaries.
In hindsight, DNA’s faulty subscription drive, the launch and free distribution of Mumbai Mirror with ToI and the increase of ToI’s cover price to suck the newspaper budget of households so that a second newspaper cannot be bought, are seen to have been the key drivers in ToI fighting off the challenge.
Rahul Kansal, the chief marketing officer of ToI, is quoted as saying:
“DNA came in with a lot of overconfidence. Heady with their launches in Gujarat and Rajasthan, they thought The Times of India would be a sitting duck. They started their outdoor campaign four months in advance, giving us adequate time to launch a new paper. I think they displayed their hand way too early, so by the time they launched, we had already soaked up a lot of the reading appetite.”
The southward turn in DNA’s fortunes is reflected in Subhash Chandra of Zee edging out partner Sudhir Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar for a more hands-on role. Cost-cutting is the mantra of DNA’s CEO K.U. Rao, a former Shell executive in his first media stint.
“Probably the most stark sign of DNA’s transformation comes from Bangalore, where just over a year after it spent Rs 100 crore to put up a state-of-the-art press, it is now using it to print over 200,000 copies of Bangalore Mirror for The Times of India,” writes Rohin Dharmakumar.
The Forbes piece will be available online after October 7.
Ronnie Screwvala of UTV, and Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy of NDTV, are the three prominent media names missing in India Today magazine’s annual ranking of the 50 most powerful people in India for the year of the lord, 2010.
Otherwise, this year’s list comprise the usual barons: Samir Jain and Vineet Jain of The Times of India group at No.8; Kalanidhi Maran of Sun TV at No. 16 (up eight places from last year); Raghav Bahl of TV18 at No. 17 (down from No. 15); Subhash Chandra of Zee at No. 22; Ramesh Agarwal and Sudhir Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar and DNA at No. 30 (up five places from last year); Mahendra Mohan Gupta and Sanjay Gupta of Dainik Jagran at No. 33 (up from 39) ; and Rajeev Chandrasekhar of Asianet and Suvarna at No. 37 (up from 46, although India Today strangely claims he is a new entrant).
But the printer’s devil is in the details.
India Today says Vineet Jain is obsessive about the photogallery of Indiatimes, Samir about the layout of ToI‘s editorial page (an obsession that began in 1989); Maran, an amateur radio operator, is the highest-paid executive in India earning Rs 37 crore per annum; Bahl will publish a book on the political economy of India and China this August; Mahendra Mohan Gupta has acquired an Audi Q7; and Rajeev Chandrasekhar wears Canali suits or jackets, Stemar shoes and Jaeger le Coultre watches.