Indian media fret as Reliance Industries buys up major news channel Network18

Aug 04 2014, 10:58 IST
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The hand of big business in India's media, as in other parts of the world, is nothing new. Reuters The hand of big business in India's media, as in other parts of the world, is nothing new. Reuters
SummaryOn July 7, the Independent Media Trust, of which Reliance Industries is sole beneficiary, completed the acquisition of control of Network18.

Just before Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd completed a deal to take control of media group Network18 Media & Investments Ltd in early July, two top editors stepped down.

In farewell letters to staff, both mentioned press freedoms.

Neither linked their decision to the change in ownership, but news of their resignation prompted heated debate over the significance of one of India's most powerful companies buying up some of the country's leading newsrooms.

On July 7, the Independent Media Trust, of which Reliance Industries is sole beneficiary, completed the acquisition of control of Network18, home to news channels CNN-IBN and CNBC-TV18, Forbes India and firstpost.com, among others.

"Editorial independence and integrity have been articles of faith in (my) 26 years in journalism and maybe I am too old now to change!" wrote one of the two, Rajdeep Sardesai, who was editor-in-chief of IBN 18 News Network, including CNN-IBN, a respected English-language news channel.

On July 21 another editor, Nikhil Wagle, of regional channel IBN-Lokmat which is part of the same group, also resigned, complaining to Reuters of persistent editorial interference by the new owners.

"Every day you can find some example of interference by Reliance - direct interference in news," Wagle said. "They don't send any mail. They give oral instructions. They give hints."

Reliance said it did not interfere in editorial decisions.

"There has never been contact between Reliance and journalists of Network18," a spokesman said in an email.

The two other editors declined to comment for this article.

RELIANCE LOOMS LARGE

The hand of big business in India's media, as in other parts of the world, is nothing new.

But few private firms loom as large as Reliance, India's third biggest company by market value and an industrial juggernaut owned by the nation's richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Ambani, like other prominent members of India's business community, has been a supporter of Narendra Modi, India's recently elected prime minister who stormed to power on the back of promises to kickstart economic growth.

Reliance's takeover of Network18 raised concerns that the new ownership might result in a bias towards Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its news outlets' coverage.

The company's track record of issuing legal notices related to defamatory content to the media amplified broader unease that reporters were being exposed to powerful backers' whims and that self-censorship was on the rise.

CNN-IBN and other Network18 outlets remain among the most esteemed news brands in a country with a

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