It may be true that on paper, RIL does not hold any stake in any media company, as the minister stated in Rajya Sabha. However, the Reliance group now openly controls Eenadu TV and the Network18 Group, according to a researched reported by MONEY LIFE FOUNDATION headed by numero uno business investigative journalist Sucheta Dalal.
India’s largest private sector entity, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, does not have any direct holding in media houses or companies, listed or unlisted in print, broadcast and production. This is the written reply given by minister of state in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, RPN Singh in the Rajya Sabha.
However, since the question may not have been asked correctly, the answer is an incomplete one. Earlier, this year, Independent Media Trust, a trust set up by Mr Ambani’s flagship RIL agreed to fund promoters of both Network18 Media and Investments (Network18) and TV18 Broadcast (TV18) to subscribe to the rights issue of these companies.
Following the deal, Mr Ambani directly or indirectly controls Eenadu TV and the Network18 Group. That is about 30 channels across entertainment and news segments in English and regional languages.
RIL’s deal with Raghav Bahl of TV18 group is one of the most complicated deals of all time. According to a press release, issued by RIL at that time, promoter companies of Network18 and TV18 and the Trust entered into a Term Sheet under which the Trust would be subscribing to the OptionallyConvertible Debentures (OCDs) to be issued by the Promoter Companies.
“Reliance will leverage its deep understanding of the Indian markets-consumer insights, technological expertise, and the ability to build & manage scale-to make this a “win-win” partnership. This will create value and be accretive to the shareholders of RIL,” the Mukesh Ambani group company said in a press release.
This was the first part of the deal. In the second part, Infotel Broadband Services (Infotel), a unit of RIL, signed a memorandum of understanding with both, TV18 and Network18 for preferential access for distributing all contents of the media group companies through its fourth-generation (4G)broadband network. As per the agreement, RIL would divest part of its interest in Eenadu TV (ETV) channels to TV18.
Earlier, RIL had admitted that the company and its group companies invested Rs2,600 crore in Ushodaya Enterprises, the holding company of ETV channels. As per the deal with Mr Bahl, the Mukesh Ambani group divested its 100% interest in ETV news channels, 50% in entertainment channels and 24.5% interest in Telugu channels to TV18.
About two months ago, Moneylife sent a mail to Nilrab Media Private Ltd, which is one of the trustees in RIL’s Independent Media Trust. However, till date neither there is any answer nor there is any reply from Nilrab Media.
More than two decades ago Reliance had made a bid to enter the media by buying the Observer newspaper which it ran half-heartedly and closed down. Anil Ambani, the estranged and debt-strapped younger brother of the RIL chief was leading that effort. The ADAG group controlled by Anil Ambani has large stakes in TV Today and other media companies. (courtesy: Moneylife Digital Team)