It was no coincidence that Punjab Today, a news channel patronised by the erstwhile Congress government, went off air in Punjab after the Akalis returned to power in 2007.
The same year, Orbit Resorts owned by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal launched its own channel, PTC. Both Fastway Transmissions (which has virtual monopoly hold over cable television business in the state) and PTC may deny they are even remotely related, but the records of registrar of companies on the change of directors at G-Next Media, the Orbit-owned company that owns PTC, show they had the same mentors.
Mumbai-based JS Kohli and Yogesh Shah had joined hands with Jhujhar Transport owner Gurdeep Singh to roll out Fastway in November 2007. Kohli and Shah were also directors of G-Next for more than three years from April 2007, and shareholders in Gur-Baz Media, the other company that had stakes in PTC.
While Shah and Kohli still hold 33% share in Fastway, down 16% from the earlier 49%, they ceased to be directors of G-Next in 2010. The reason was a TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) ruling that debarred multi-system operators (MSOs) from crossholding in satellite channels. Kohli, who had the experience of running regional channels such as Zee Punjabi and ETC Punjabi, mentored both Fastway and PTC in their initial years.
ETC was later bought by Zee, which shunted out its 62 employees, including Rabindra Narayanan, who is now a director at PTC. Kohli was able to get his ETC Punjabi team to work for PTC. Both Kohli and Narayanan knew the trade secret that had done the trick for ETC Punjabi. No wonder the first coup for PTC was taking over the rights to telecast Gurbani from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) awards the rights.
Gurbani alone was enough to take care of the TRP (television rating points), while Fastway that had started cartel-ising the cable business with “political patronage” helped PTC get a reach that a new channel needs to make it big.
Friends with ‘benefits’
The annual statements of PTC do not show it to be a money-spinner for the Badals, yet the gains are purely political. The opposition parties in Punjab accuse the channel of being the government’s mouthpiece. It airs government advertisements for free and has exclusive telecast rights, be it the assembly proceedings or the World Kabaddi Cup matches of Sukhbir. In its initial years, the government also bestowed it with largesse of ads worth more than Rs 50 lakh.
Narayanan accepts that Fastway founders Kolhi and Shah were directors in PTC till 2010. “We were part of same team in Zee. But as of today, there is no link between PTC and Fastway. Neither has PTC gained from the government. It is in fact the other way round. We cover its events and show its ads for free. We are not making any money from the government,” he says.
He claims that the PTC’s content such as Gurbani makes it imperative for the MSOs such as Fastway to air it. “We are a free-to-air channel. We don’t pay the MSOs, nor are we paid by them,” he said.
Rajee M Shinde is the other director in PTC. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs records show that Sukhbir’s brother-in-law, Gurmehar Singh Majithia, was also a director of G-Next for some time.
JS Kohli, when contacted, said he was under treatment and not keeping well. He refused to comment further.
How Fastway helped PTC
The cartel-isation of cable network distribution ensured the telecast and promotion of the PTC network just when the channels were launched and needed financial support in the absence of TRPs.
Former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh was first to prove the ownership of the Badals in PTC in the run-up to 2012 state elections. Sukhbir had then accepted that his company, Orbit Resorts, owned PTC.
Curious case of PTC's first director
It pays to be a Badal loyalist. Ask Mohammad Jameel, a resident of Bathinda’s Dabwali Road. Jameel has shareholdings crisscrossing various companies of Badal-owned Orbit group.
Bathinda resident Mohammad Anif and he were first directors of G-Next Media that owns PTC. But they resigned within two months, in February and March 2007, respectively, and were succeeded by Kohli and Shah of Fastway.
Jameel and his brother, Mohammad Rafique, are also shareholders in Orbit Aviation. Jameel is also managing director of Badal-owned Dabwali Transport Company, which operates buses. He is also a director in Orbit Resorts and Metro Eco Green Resorts, in which the Badals have a major share and which is building Eco Tourism Resort near Mullanpur.