At 4 pm on December 23, a meeting took place in a building in Greater Kailash 1, Delhi.
This was no ordinary meeting with employees discussing year-end targets or turnover. As soon as it ended, Prannoy and Radhika Roy’s stake in NDTV dropped from 32.26 percent to just five percent.
Prannoy sold 86,65,209 of his 1,02,76,991 shares (15.94 percent of the company) and Radhika 89,12,467 of her 1,05,24,249 shares (16.32 percent) to the AMG Media Network, a company owned by Asia’s richest man, Gautam Adani. Adani acquired these shares for Rs 602.3 crore.
At 5.51 pm, NDTV informed the Bombay Stock Exchange that AMG Media’s CEO Sanjay Pugalia and journalist Senthil Chengalvarayan had been appointed as additional directors on NDTV’s board with immediate effect.
A little after 7 pm, the Roys issued a statement confirming that AMG Media is “now the single largest shareholder in NDTV”.
“Consequently, with mutual agreement we have decided to divest most of our shares in NDTV to the AMG Media Network…our discussions with Mr Adani have been constructive; all the suggestions we made were accepted by him positively and with openness.”
It was in striking contrast to their , when the Roys said the Adani Group’s acquisition of Vishwapradhan Commercial Private Limited – whose connection to NDTV you can – was “executed without any input from, conversation with, or consent of the NDTV founders”.
Now, spanning August to December, the story of Adani’s acquisition of NDTV is complete.
Days later, on December 28, Gautam Adani himself sat down for a with India Today’s Raj Chengappa. He promised that NDTV will be a “credible, independent, global network with a clear lakshman rekha between management and editorial”.
A channel that ‘cared’
The December 23 meeting was held at an NDTV office where company board meetings take place. Barely 100 metres away is another building called Archana Complex – NDTV’s headquarters where the Roys were usually found.
When the meeting ended, there was an air of unease at Archana Complex. The usual hustle and bustle had dimmed. Another meeting also reportedly happened – of editors with new managers and directors to discuss future plans and recruitments. Suparna Singh, NDTV’s group president, also emailed all employees saying she was in office until 10 pm and available for anyone who wanted to talk.
NDTV is unique in that it when there were only a handful of news channels in India. So, for journalists of a particular age, many of them passed through NDTV at some point or the other.
Former and current employees told misty-eyed stories of how much NDTV cared for its staff. Food was dispatched for reporters shooting on the ground. Starting with a Honda City in 2000-02, cars were made available for those who needed them, later even iPhones provided to employees. A former employee said, on condition of anonymity, that they “used every version of Apple’s phones, thanks to NDTV”.
Journalist Hridayesh Joshi, who spent 20 years at NDTV, said he had a health issue soon after he’d joined the news channel. “I was admitted to the hospital,” he recalled, “and two admin staff were there, round the clock, to take care of me until a member of my family arrived.”
Sanjay Ahirwal, former managing editor of NDTV Worldwide Ltd, had a similar story about the late Padmanand Jha, later one of the founding members of the Pioneer. After a stint at NDTV, Jha had been in an accident in 1997 and spent many months in hospital. Ahirwal said NDTV gave Jha a job where he “didn’t have to do anything” to help him in that difficult time.
Anjali Istwal had been a senior editor at NDTV when her mother’s health deteriorated in 2018. “I said I’m going home on leave, I didn’t specify when I would return,” she said. “When I returned two and a half months later, no one questioned me. This kind of sensitivity towards employees is extraordinary.”
She added, “For journalists of my age, if there’s someone we think of as a journalist, it’s Prannoy Roy. NDTV is a temple for us. The careers of many journalists like me were made there. It’s where the country’s best media professionals worked.”
Where editors were owners too
Importantly, NDTV was a channel where the editors were also its owners. Radhika Roy would host a 11 am meeting every day that would be attended by other employees, including Prannoy. The Roys were also regulars in the newsroom, marking edits and making news lists.
“Never saw the Roys shouting in the newsroom,” Joshi said. “They respected everyone, from top-ranking people to security guards.”
Aunindyo Chakravarty, former senior managing editor of NDTV India and NDTV Profit, said, “When you hear the name NDTV, you immediately see Prannoy Roy. He was both editor and owner of the channel, so NDTV’s journalism was different…People who give credit to the Roys and NDTV today could not have found such an environment anywhere else.”
He said the channel never participated in the race for ratings. “I went to Prannoy and Radhika Roy several times with a plan to increase ratings. But they said, ‘News karna hai rating ke liye kuch bhi nahi karna hai. Bring ratings but from news, not from masala.’”
Several journalists told Newslaundry about the freedom they had to report on varied topics at NDTV – poverty, hunger, healthcare. “Whatever I’ve learned,” said Joshi, “NDTV holds an important place in it.”
NDTV has also marked itself as being more “anti-establishment” than other leading news channels. “NDTV’s inclination is left of centre,” said a former staffer. “Today, the rest of the channels praise Modi and attack the opposition. NDTV asks questions to the government – that’s why it has this image of being anti-government.”
This has always been the case, said journalist Vijay Trivedi who was with NDTV from 1995, and not just because of the Modi government. In 2007, Trivedi had interviewed then I&B minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi who told him that president Pratibha Patil had not been the Congress party’s first choice. There was an “uproar”, Trivedi said, with Dasmunshi “faxing Dr Roy’s office saying he never made such a statement”.
But Radhika Roy viewed the complete interview and stood by it, Trivedi said, despite the government’s obvious displeasure. “The Roys never stopped any story,” he said. “A reporter had complete freedom.”
India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai also to the Roys, saying they gave him, and many others, an “opportunity to shine”.
The Roys brought “respect and professionalism” to journalism, said former NDTV journalist Sandeep Bhushan. “There was more freedom in the Hindi channel than in English,” he added. “Maybe that’s why Ravish could become Ravish.”
Ravish Kumar from NDTV on November 30, days after the Roys quit as the directors of the board of NDTV promoter RRPRH. In a on his YouTube channel, he said, “I don't know what I will do at 9 pm now. I love television a lot. My heart grew fond of this medium, maybe that’s why my heart is breaking too.”
Beginning of the end
Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
After the global recession in 2008, NDTV never quite bounced back. The Roys took a series of loans, and that was the beginning of the end. (Read this on how the Roys borrowed Rs 403 crore from Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance.)
There were other issues too. A former employee said the channel “gave jobs” to people from similar “elite Anglophile family backgrounds and contacts”. The former employee described it as a form of “nepotism”.
A current employee alleged a “huge difference” in salaries. “There have been two large-scale layoffs in NDTV,” they said. “People were brought in as replacements at lower salaries, but there were many people in top positions whose salaries were unreasonably high. If their salaries had been reduced, many jobs could have been saved.”
Another employee said there was “inequality” in access to the Roys. “In the Congress, leaders who have access to 10 Janpath hold sway in the party,” they said. “Something similar happened in NDTV as well. All employees didn’t have access to Dr Roy but those who did have access did better.”
This “class divide”, as another staffer put it, led “those who worked around the Roys” to “benefit a lot”.
How do staffers, past and present, think things will change in the Adani era?
“NDTV is not against capitalism. It is socially liberal,” said a former employee. “Whether Ambani stays or Adani comes, nothing much will change.”
Istwal also doesn’t see “any change for a year or two”. But Trivedi said, “First there was Ambani. But then, Dr Roy was there. Now he won’t be there and Adani will be. NDTV is without Roy – it’s like a body without a soul.”
Bhushan said, “What channel has not changed after changing owners? NDTV too won’t remain untouched.”
Chakravarty said, “No one from Ambani ever entered NDTV. It was never said in NDTV, ‘you do this because Ambani wants it.’ We did many stories against Ambani even after taking a loan but no one ever stopped it.”
Logically, he said, NDTV will change under Adani. “Otherwise, why would anyone buy a channel that does not have significant TRPs?” he pointed out. “Adani does not have a significant presence in the media.”
Prannoy Roy and Sanjay Pugalia did not respond to Newslaundry’s queries for this report.
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