Network 18: Bahl exits, shares zoom, journalists worry

  • Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 30, 2014 23:54 IST

A day after the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Limited announced it had acquired control of the entire Network 18 media group for Rs 4,000 crore through Independent Media Trust, of which it is the sole beneficiary, its reverberations were felt across markets, and in the media organisation’s management and newsroom.

In a letter to the staff, the Network 18 promoter and founder Raghav Bahl said he and his wife Ritu Kapur “were agreeing to end our entrepreneurial leadership of NW 18 by agreeing to exit our shareholding”. He also said that the group was in “terrific hands. Mr Ambani is a visionary and truly global being”. Media sources told HT that Bahl had been preparing for the transition for some time, and may lead a policy-centred thinktank.

The shares of Network18 Media and Investments were up 19.93% on Friday and ended at Rs 54.14. The shares of RIL fell by 0.74% to Rs 1,065.15.The market valuation of the company rose by Rs 942.70 crore, to Rs 5,667.70 crore. The promoter group’s 73% shareholding is, thus, worth about Rs 4,150 crore. News site, qz.com, however, reported — based on documents filed with India’s stock exchange — that Bahl and his wife would receive Rs 700 crore. The shares of TV 18 Broadcast were up 0.57% at `35.15.

In the newsrooms of Network 18 platforms, there was uncertainty about the future of the group, as well as individuals. A senior editorial source told HT that there is a transition time, as the new owners will take control on July 7.

In this period, two issues may come up — the future of the existing editorial staff, and the issue of editorial autonomy. “A corporate group with interests in many areas is taking over. So there are natural concerns about autonomy. A public disclosure of the red-lines on editorial issues would be good for credibility,” the source said.

The editor-in-chief of IBN Network, Rajdeep Sardesai, may stay on for a short period to oversee the transition. But he is widely expected to quit or take a long sabbatical for a writing assignment soon. RIL has hired senior media managers and select journalists in recent months. They in turn have sounded out top TV editors for leadership roles, and are expected to play a key role in the future.

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