Part – 1
The Inside Story
The year is 1990. Rathikant Basu is now the CEO of a giant media conglomerate called the Star TV Network. Basu may be an insignificant name hidden in the pages of the history of independent India; But Star TV is still very much active. The Stephanian had joined Star TV for a handsome seven digit salary. 3 days after his retirement. Interestingly, Star TV had a tie-up with (no points for guessing) NDTV! However, when you fast forward to 1997, you get to know that this retired IAS Officer was at the centre of a huge scam involving his former employer, Doordarshan. They had him pinned down. There was little to no room to escape. The investigating agency was the CBI. The cops were investigating two serious charges against him.
The story goes back… Way back to 1990. There was a swirling vortex of entropy in Delhi in the name of a “Government”. Colour TVs had just made its way into the Indian household. TVs had 27 channels those days; anything between 28 & 35 & you were a lucky man. Basu was the Director General of Doordarshan back then. The first of the charges was that Doordarshan had paid a foreign media group far higher royalty than the revenue generated by advertisements, consequently resulting in a loss of over 5.75 Crore to the country’s exchequer.
Abusing his powers, he had arbitrarily (& blatantly) placed a programme to the “A” category for sponsorship & “A Special” category for spot buy. This meant that the programme would sell in premium & the loser, as always, would be the exchequer. The Public Accounts Committee estimated it to be somewhere in the range of 3.5 Crores. Way back in 1990. This amount, when adjusted for inflation, would run into the territory of few hundred Crores before 8th November, 2016. (I mention this date because the position of the rupee after demonetisation is uncertain.)
NDTV – the Other Side of the Same Coin
Winter was just beginning to set in. The hot summer loo of Delhi was turning into a zephyr. But one man was still getting hot under his collar. That man was Pronnoy Kumar Roy. He, then as now, was the CEO of the New Delhi Television Network; known as NDTV. The programme, produced by Roy’s NDTV, was called “The World This Week”. A few other programmes too were treated with similar undue privilege. Some of them include “South Asia News Capsule” & “News Tonight”. Not only were these shows arbitrarily placed in the elite list, NDTV also got the Doordarshan Newsroom for free. Plus, microwave & satellite up-linking facilities were given out for peanuts.
The MIB (Ministry of Information & Broadcasting) had gone on record saying that there was some kind of a FREE “informal understanding” between Doordarshan and NDTV. Very soon, Additional Director of the CBI, Gopal Chary and DIG (Anti Corruption Cell) Narendra Pal Singh were on their toes. The then CAG, VK Shunglu, very much like the highly respected Vinod Rai did in 2010, had prepared a clear cut report. The case was an open-and-shut one. And there was no running away.
The Charge Sheet was filed & a case was moved. But sooner than we thought, the law, which was supposed to take its own course, suddenly took a U-Turn. The CBI, which had a case so damning that they would have put Basu Da & Roy Da in jail for good seven years, eventually filed a closure report; letting them off for “lack of evidence”. It was a heist on a national level. And everybody got away with it! Basu created another media house & remains employed with a media conglomerate. Whereas, Roy… well, we all know what he is up to. Or maybe not! Meanwhile, the Investigating Officer in Roy’s case went on to become the Commissioner of Gurugram, not completely without NDTV’s help.
On 10th November, when the rest of the country was running from pillar to post to convert their black money into white; Dr. Gaurav Pradhan, while calmly sipping his coffee on his desk, and doing what he does best – exposing NDTV. He came up with some facts which, he claimed, were unknown to even the workers of NDTV.
Originally, the committee recommended a 30-day ban for NDTV. However, the benevolent government handed them only a token one-day ban. (Intolerance, Anyone?) It was an important day. America was going to the elections. And Donald Trump was going to win that day. Immediately, Roy rushed to Naidu & fell on his feet. As a result, that one day eyewash ban was withheld indefinitely. The I&B Minister Venkaiah Naidu, probably saw a Trump victory coming. How could he deprive us of the wailing that took place on the morning of 8th November? The looks on the faces of their reporters were impeccable! It must have been very difficult for Barkha to withhold her tears.
A well known anchor with NDTV is Sharik Rahman Khan. However, little do we know that the Sessions Court in Rohini booked Mr. Khan in 2009. The charges were serious. Apparently, he had, in a blatant violation of Press Council of India guidelines, & more importantly, a criminal offence under the IPC, revealed the identity of a rape victim. Then, a case was made out. However, he went on to do his Muzaffarnagar story & now, the case is still pending in the court. I am guessing that the case will continue to linger on for years to come & Khan will eventually be acquitted. This happens in almost all cases. Cases with respondents from NDTV do not get anywhere! They either know some very good lawyers, or their lawyers know judges. It goes without saying that the uncrowned empress ran the Government of India during those days.
Either way, Sharik Rahman Khan, who was once a mere cameraman with NDTV, got out of the case & went on to become a reporter and is now a known anchor. Talks are that the satirical journalist, Ravish Kumar has groomed Khan himself. No wonder, Khan’s style is similar to those of other five star journalists such as Ravish. While the Muzaffarnagar riots spelled the destruction of several lives, it added a feather in his cap. He covered the riots in the practiced one-sided style of NDTV. NDTV India presented his biased reports as “human story”. The Goenkas promptly handed him over the “prestigious” Ramnath Goenka Award for his “powerful reporting” of the “politics behind the Muzaffarnagar riots”. Indian Express’ words, not mine!
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) November 23, 2015
Flashback … Again!
Sameer Manchanda, a CA, was the financial brain of NDTV. He would manage all accounts for the Roys. On the contrary, Prof. Kanti Bajpai, a “visionary” from the metaphorical “high” society, is one of the so-called “eminent intellectuals” of the country. His rather charismatic brother, IP Bajpai (aka Baj) is a consultant, well known in the media circles. Further, he was instrumental in the creation of CNN News18 (CNN IBN) & Times NOW. How? Read on…
Prof. Bajpai’s vision of world politics found first manifested itself in the form of the editorial guidelines of NDTV. Of course, Baj, a genius himself, was the conduit facilitating the flow of ideas. He was NDTV’s Chankaya – micro managing almost every little aspect – anchors, rosters, meeting with high profile corporate, & so forth. He is close to both Radhika & Pronnoy Roy. One can have only one best friend. So, Bajpai’s arrival meant the departure of old friend Sameer Manchanda.
However, Sameer was not the kind of person who could be pushed into oblivion so easily! He was no weak person. He used his entire financial power, clout, influence, etc., & soon, was ready with CNN IBN with Rajdeep Sardesai. What really impresses me about Sameer Manchanda is that he was a true visionary. He had realised the power of the internet early. Way back in 2005, he acknowledged this in making the DEN Network; long before the government had made the digitisation of television compulsory. Den Network is the pioneer of Digital TV today.
Back home in NDTV, the loss of Sameer was stinging the Roys. Hard! They were in a financial mess. They could never recover from there! There have been no profits as yet. Yes, they might have earned kickbacks through political brokerage; but there has been no real operational profit for NDTV.
I am not saying this. Nor has any flying bird told me that. NDTV’s annual reports, with all financial details are, in fact, available online & can be accessed here.
Inputs: Dr. Gaurav Pradhan
Words: Sumit Agrawal