Gautam Adani, the world’s third-richest man and known for his friendly relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took over what some consensus believed to be the country’s only surviving liberal news network, New Delhi Television (NDTV), in a hostile bid.
The takeover prompted the resignations of NDTV founders Prannoy and Radhika Roy, as well as top news anchor Ravish Kumar, who as head of the network’s Hindi operations has become a thorn in the side of the Modi government.
The takeover, though long in the making, has caused quite a stir in the Indian media, particularly among those journalists who espouse liberal, secular values in the face of unprecedented pressure created by the right-wing Hindu ideology emblematic of Modi.
Clearly, the appeal for Adani’s new company AMG Media Networks Limited is not necessarily profit-driven, as NDTV’s FY2022 profit of around $10 million on revenue of around $51 million is quite small for it.
For Adani, whose ports-to-energy conglomerate has a market capitalization of $260 billion, the hostile takeover is seen as part of a two-pronged strategy to tame a news channel hostile to the Modi government even as it expands into a global India network on Al Jazeera.
He was recently quoted by the Financial Times as saying: “Why can’t you support a media house to become independent and have a global footprint? India does not have a single one [outlet] compared to the Financial Times or Al Jazeera.
NDTV under Royce bucked the prevailing trend of pushy, opinionated and chauvinistic journalism that pervades the country’s 400 or so news channels. But a defaulted loan exposed them to exactly the kind of takeover the media market is witnessing.
RRPR (Radhika Roy Prannoy Roy) Holding Private Limited, the promoter of NDTV, fell prey to this takeover after defaulting on the loan, paving the way for Adani to acquire almost its entire 29.18 percent stake. He also made an open bid to acquire another 26 percent to gain a majority stake in the company. Their open offer has acquired enough shares to take control of NDTV, although the Roys continue to hold a 32.26% stake in NDTV. The Roy family resigned from the board of RRPR, the promoter company of NDTV, not from the board of NDTV.
There are people in the media who find it hard to sympathize with the Roy family because they defaulted on the earlier loan, which obviously made them vulnerable. All in all, the husband and wife duo not only have nothing to lose financially, but they have everything to gain a lot.
As soon as the takeover became public, it was a given that not only Roy but even some of NDTV’s top brass would find it unviable to continue, given that the network’s editorial independence was expected to be limited and gradually aligned with the worldview of the Modi government.
The news business in India is increasingly vulnerable to ideological and legal attacks. NDTV is one of the few broadcast networks that is profitable, albeit modestly. The deep pockets that Adani brings to the network, albeit with the power of its vastly inflated empire, are expected to be used to realize its global media ambitions.
On the face of it, it makes perfect sense that the world’s largest democracy would have an international news presence. The question, however, is whether it can be freed from the corporate interests of its new owner as well as its allegiance to the Modi government. Those who know Adani, 60, say 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 when many in the orbit of the ruling Congress party thought of turning the country’s state-run Doordarshan network into a global presence on the lines of the BBC. This has never happened, and with the NDTV takeover, there is a strong possibility that it will, even with possibly unsavory editorial bias.
For its part, however, Adani played down fears of editorial retrenchment. He told the Financial Times: “Independence means that if the government has done something wrong, you say it is wrong. But at the same time, you have to have courage when the government does the right thing. You should also say this.