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Billionaire Modi ally on verge of taking over independent Indian news channel | India | Rare Techy


One of India’s few news channels still known for its independent reporting will be taken over by a billionaire ally of the prime minister, Narendra Modi.

In recent years, NDTV (New Delhi Television) has earned a reputation as one of the last bastions of independent journalism among India’s mainstream media, which has come under increasing pressure to toe the government’s line under Modi, who came to power in 2014.

In August, Gautam Adani, Asia’s richest Indian industrialist, began a secret takeover bid for NDTV by buying a third-party company that owns a stake in the channel.

The move was met with fierce resistance from husband and wife NDTV founder and director Prannoy and Radhika Roy, who said the deal was done “without discussion, consent or notice” and who sought to block the share transfer.

However, this week it was confirmed that the Adani group has acquired a 29.18% stake in the news group and has an open offer for an additional 26% of the company. This week, Roys resigned from the board of promoter company NDTV, which has sold its stake to Adani.

Journalists and analysts expressed concern that Adani’s takeover would compromise the editorial independence of NDTV, which stands in stark contrast to other mainstream news channels, which largely serve as mouthpieces for Modi’s right-wing government. As a result, NDTV experienced direct pressure from the government, while its founders were investigated for money laundering and banned from leaving India.

The relationship between the prime minister and Adani is well documented, dating back two decades when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat state and Adani was an up-and-coming Gujarati entrepreneur. Modi’s rise in the political ranks is mirrored by the vast expansion of the Adani empire, now India’s third largest, which includes everything from coal mining to transportation and renewable energy.

Modi flew to Delhi on Adani’s private jet after he won the 2014 election, and since Modi took office, Adani’s net worth has grown nearly 250%, in part because of its push into green energy. He recently overtook Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, to become the third richest man in the world.

Vinod Jose, editor of Caravan, India’s long-running news magazine that has faced pressure and criminal cases against its journalists for articles critical of the government, said Adani’s move to NDTV was a symbol of India’s “oligarchic capitalism” under Modi.

“It’s natural that rich people own legacy newsrooms when there are no monopolistic and restrictive trade practices laws,” Jose said. “Modi and bigger companies gain. Indians lose.”

As the possibility of a takeover grew on Wednesday, the mood in the NDTV newsroom was sombre. “I am devastated,” said an NDTV reporter, who asked not to be named to protect his job. “I knew this was coming but when we did yesterday, I think we all lost, especially journalists like me who are trying to keep journalism alive against all odds with real reporting.”

The reporter added: “The mood is very sad. Obviously everyone is putting on a brave face but nobody knows what’s coming… I believe we have to follow some lines.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Adani denied that the NDTV acquisition would undermine its independence and said it wanted the channel to have a “global footprint”. “Independence means that if the government does something wrong, you say it is wrong,” Adani told the newspaper. “But at the same time, you have to have courage when the government does the right thing every day. You also have to say that.”

One of the first to leave ahead of the imminent takeover was Ravish Kumar, an award-winning NDTV news anchor and senior channel executive known for not being afraid to report stories critical of the government.

Kumar, who joined the channel in 1996, tendered his resignation on Wednesday after news of the transfer of NDTV shares to Adani broke. In a video released on his new YouTube channel, Kumar called on the public to continue to support journalists who speak truth to power at a time when there are “serious threats to democracy” in India.

“This day has to come sooner or later. There are many news channels in this country, but all of them are ‘godi [lapdog] media’,” Kumar said, using the pejorative term to describe the media in the government’s grip.

Shakuntala Banaji, media professor at the London School of Economics, said the takeover fits into a larger, worrying trend where “the media space for democratic information and debate in India has steadily narrowed in recent years, with large media houses buying and paid by those who have ties to the far right and loyalty to those in power”.

Banaji said the shrinking media landscape meant India’s democracy had been “driven from within” as attacks on media outlets and arrests of critical journalists led many to “remain silent out of fear”, while paid news and disinformation against minorities and deviants went unchecked. .

Aakash Hassan contributed reporting from Delhi


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