Will Gautam Adani curtail NDTV news network's editorial independence? - indica News

Will Gautam Adani curtail NDTV news network’s editorial independence?

Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

Gautam Adani, the world’s third richest man, famously chummy with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has taken over in a hostile bid what was by some consensus the country’s only surviving liberal news network New Delhi Television (NDTV).

The takeover triggered the resignations of NDTV founders Prannoy and Radhika Roy as well as its most high-profile news anchor Ravish Kumar, who as the boss of the network’s Hindi operations has become a thorn by the side of the Modi government.

The takeover, although long in the making, has caused quite a flutter in the India media, particularly among those journalists who profess liberal, secular values in the face of an unprecedented pressure created by the right-wing Hindu ideology as emblematized by Modi.

It is obvious that the attraction for Adani’s new company AMG Media Networks Limited is not necessarily driven by profit since NDTV’s profit for FY2022 of about $10 million on revenues of some $51 million is rather minuscule for him.

For Adani, whose port-to-energy conglomerate has a market capitalization of $260 billion, the hostile acquisition is seen as part of a two-pronged strategy, to tame a news channel adversarial to the Modi government even while likely expand it into a global Indian network along the lines of Al Jazeera.

He was recently quoted by the Financial Times as saying, “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.”

NDTV under the Roys resisted the overwhelming trend of desk-thumping, opinionated and jingoistic broadcast journalism that pervades among the country’s some 400 news channels. But an unpaid loan exposed them precisely the kind of takeover that the media market is witnessing.

RRPR (Radhika Roy Prannoy Roy) Holding Private Limited, the promoter company of NDTV, fell prey to this takeover after its failure repay the loan, paving the way for Adani to acquire almost all of its 29.18 percent holding. In addition, he made an open offer to acquire 26 percent more in order to gain a majority stake in the company. Their open offer has acquired enough shares to take control of NDTV even as the Roys continue to own a 32.26 percent stake in NDTV. The Roys resigned from the board of RRPR, the promoter company of NDTV, and not the NDTV board.

There are those in the media circles who find it hard to sympathize with the Roys on account of not having repaid the earlier loan which clearly made them vulnerable. On balance, the husband-and-wife duo have not just nothing to lose financial but have everything to gain a great deal.

As soon as the takeover became public, it was a fait accompli that not only the Roys but even some of NDTV’s high-profile anchors would find it untenable to continue, considering that the network’s editorial independence is expected to be curtailed and gradually brought in line with the Modi government’s worldview.

The broadcast news business in India is perilous increasingly under ideological and legal assault. NDTV is one of the few broadcast networks that are profitable even if modestly so. The deep pockets that Adani brings to the network, albeit on the strength of his widely overleveraged empire, are expected to put in use in order to realize his global media ambitions.

On the face of it, it makes perfect sense for the world’s largest democracy to have an international news presence. The question though is whether it can be free from its new owner’s corporate interests as well as his allegiance to the Modi government. Those who know the 60-year-old Adani say that he is a pragmatic man who has maintained cordial relations across the political spectrum.

There was a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s that, many in the orbit of the governing Congress Party had thought of making the country’s state-owned Doordarshan network into a global presence along the lines of the BBC. That never happened and with the takeover of NDTV, there is a distinct possibility of it happening even if with likely troublesome editorial predilections.

On his part though, Adani has played down the fear of editorial curtailment. He told the Financial Times, “Independence means if government has done something wrong, you say it’s wrong. But at the same time, you should have courage when the government is doing the right thing. You have to also say that.”

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