When Mukesh bhai and Reliance get their show on the road, everyone notices. The only other time you will have so many celebrities cheering someone on, it will probably be the Indian cricket team playing World Cup final.
Reliance Jio, the company’s fourth-generation wireless broadband service, achieved that yesterday again as it was officially launched. As of now, though, only Reliance employees can avail its services. While the actual launch took place in a Bollywood star-studded ceremony at Reliance Corporate Park in Navi Mumbai, there was more than a flutter on Twitter. From journalists to film stars, everyone had only the nicest things to say about the latest offering from the Reliance stable. Understandable, one would say: a digital product getting the digital world excited.
Facebook, another digital product trying to further its business interests in the country, has reportedly spent Rs 100 crore on ads trying to convince Indians that its semi-philanthropic offering, Free Basic, is not evil. By all accounts, the amount is a significant portion of the ad revenue the company earns in the country.
If Facebook, with its ad blitzkrieg, is able to convince Indians and subsequently telecom authorities that Free Basics is indeed altruistic in nature, a major beneficiary would be Reliance Jio. Mukesh has buried the hatchet with his younger brother, Anil Ambani, the owner of Reliance Communications (RCOM) – the official partner of Free Basics in India. As per a recent understanding, Reliance Communications can access 4G mobile networks of Jio, which, in turn, can use the former’s 2G and 3G networks when needed. (According to RCOM, Internet.org, the previous version of Free Basics, has already helped it get more than a million people on the Internet.)
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg would, no doubt, be excited at the launch of Jio, given it would help his company expand operations in its second-largest market. However, considering Zuckerberg is supposed to be a smart man, it is unlikely, the irony of the entire charade was lost on Zuckerberg. Here he is spending through his nose (Facebook’s earnings in India far from reflect its massive customer base) countering net neutrality activists in a country where just over 20 per cent people have access to the internet – and on the other hand, this man has the got some of the biggest influencers of the country – Bollywood stars and editors of TV news channels – tweeting with great gusto about his product that, according to a Comptroller and Auditor General report, is estimated to have cost the state exchequer at least Rs 3,367 crore.
Our tech savvy and up-to-date on current affairs film stars outdid themselves by copy-pasting a tweet sent in all probability by Reliance’s PR team. Resultantly, almost all celebrity tweets were identical. We tried getting in touch with a few of them, but, unsurprisingly, received no response – or acknowledgement for that matter.
What about journalists, though? Gladly – or perhaps not, actually – they came up with their own tweets, ostensibly thrilled at Jio’s release. Of course, most journalists excited about Jio are employed with Network 18, which is owned by Mukesh Amabani too. Yes, Mukesh owns many things.
Now, the banal questions that we keep asking time and again, because we think they are important. Is it dandy for a professional journalist to promote a commercial product launched by the owner of his or her network? Because, you know, the currency of a journalist is credibility and all that. Imagine a Sahara Samay journalist promoting Aamby Valley as the embodiment of healthy urban living, or for that matter, a Times of India journalist claiming Miss India pageant to be representative of progressive feminist values. Even by the Indian media’s not-so-impeccable standards, that’s just positively uncool and unheard of.
Also, let’s get one thing straight: Reliance Jio is not new technology, as many on Twitter would have you believe. It’s a product, 4G is the technology.
But then, surely editors who have tweeted about it know as much. Were they then instructed by their owner to do so? CNN-IBN Executive Editor Bhupendra Chaubey rubbishes that. “I am personally excited about the launch of 4G services as I believe in the power of digital. I believe any tool with disruptionist abilities such as Jio must be promoted and that’s why I’ve relentlessly been tweeting about it,” Chaubey said.
The other two journalists, vociferous in their support to Reliance Jio on Twitter, we reached out to, CNBC Awaaz Editor-in-Chief Sanjay Pugalia and IBN-7 Deputy Managing Editor Sumit Awasthi, declined to comment. Awasthy insisted that even his refusal to comment was off-the-record. We don’t know how to articulate something so meta. Probably, need another technology.
Exactly 12 years ago on this very day, Mukesh had launched Reliance’s CDMA services. Following the split between the two brothers, the company went to Anil and came to be called as Reliance Communications. With the launch of Jio, the two have got together again in a mutually beneficial arrangement. The tag used for the launch in 2003 was Kar lo duniya mutthi mein. For Mukesh, that objective seems to have been achieved more or less.