News behind the News

Through all of yesterday, the news media has been abuzz with talk on the goings-on at Network18 and Television18, the holding companies of the slew of high profile news channels CNBC-TV18 and CNN-IBN in particular.

On Tuesday, Group CEO B Sai Kumar put in his papers followed by COO Ajay Chacko. Yesterday, there was news that CFO RDS Bawa had also quit. There were rumours that founder Raghav Bahl too was set to put in his papers, and Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai may also be moving on, or at least going on a long leave starting June 1.

The grapevine had it Times Now ed-in-chief Arnab Goswami could be negotiating with Network18 or IndiaTV's proposed English channel. Clearly, the Reliance acquisition of Network18 and TV18 was a foregone conclusion the day Raghav Bahl agreed for the bail-out in early 2012.

That it’s happening less than a week after the Narendra Modi government assumed office (the Ambani family was in attendance at the swearing-in) does makes one wonder whether the acquisition has any linkage with the transition of power. Perhaps it does, given that the new dispensation may not be as averse to big business's entry into the media.

I am sure there will be a lot of discussion on the fears of how a Reliance Industries could misuse the media it owns. Personally, I think much (or all) of it is misplaced. Some of our biggest and oldest news media entities are owned by large business houses. Some of these were set up to mobilise support for our freedom fighters.

The fact of the matter is that business barons appreciate the need for product quality, and I don’t think they would want to devalue their brand. It’s like the Mumbai Indians team owned Reliance. I am sure the Ambanis have their view on cricket and how Malinga should bowl that 18th over, but they leave it to the experts to take care of cricketing matters. Ditto with newsrooms, I guess.

Pradyuman Maheshwari is a senior journalist and editor. When he’s not chasing news, he’s watching it.
Twitter: @pmahesh

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