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Is free media becoming an impossibility?
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Gautam Adani (file photo)

Gautam Adani, the fourth richest man in the world and one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's crony capitalists, owns 29.18 per cent of NDTV, a television channel that is known for its objective reporting. In addition, Adani is also trying to acquire 26 per cent stakes through an open offer in the stock market. If he is successful in securing this, then the way ahead for founders Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy at NDTV is an exit. Rumours of the Adani Group taking over the firm have been doing the rounds for over a year but were dismissed by the Roys as baseless. However, financial disputes and liabilities that began in 2007, intended for stablisation of the institution, have finally resulted in the transfer of all the shares of RRPR Holding Company, which Radhika and Prannoy jointly owned, into Ambani's and, as more recently, Adani's control. The Roys have clarified that the move by Adani's media group was without consultation with the individual or the firm and as per SEBI's order dated November 27, 2020, the couple had been barred from buying, selling or dealing in securities directly or indirectly. Their statements hint at a legal battle ahead. But legal experts say that in the current scenario it is very difficult to win a legal battle with the country's most 'powerful' person, who is a visible presence in India's corridors of power. Thus, NDTV, one of the few independent media platforms that criticize the government and seeks the truth in the news, is also getting absorbed into Adani's sphere of influence.

The media sector and modern democracy are both significantly impacted by the NDTV takeover. In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, neo-corporate giants including Ambani had attempted to buy the country's entire media but failed. However, after 2014, it is such corporations that control almost 80 per cent of India's media. More than 72 different channels including channels in regional languages ​​are under the control of Mukesh Ambani. His company also holds shares or debentures of various leading media houses in the country. Apart from that, Reliance MediaWorks Limited has a contract with Star India worth Rs 15,000 crore. Now, Adani has also started buying up the media. Last May, it acquired a 49% stake in Raghav Bahl-led 'The Quint' for an undisclosed amount. The current attempt to take over NDTV, which has the largest number of readers and viewers, proves that the country's media has transformed into nothing more than a mouthpiece for the government and can financially crush those refusing to comply. The fact that NDTV's collapse is also encouraged by a government that takes pleasure in legally and financially weakening those who try to raise their voice against them, casts a pall over the future of media freedom in the country.

What the Roy couple has been suffering for the past few years is a retaliation for airing the 2002 Gujarat genocide in all its horror. They have been implicated in several cases by the central government. They had to face other unpleasant tactics such as detention and inhumane treatment at the airport. It is obvious from the unfortunate current scenario that financial independence is essential for a free press. The media, however, which requires a substantial investment, are compelled to rely on corporate sponsorship, their stakes and government patronage. Only 25 per cent of the publishing cost of a newspaper is covered by the subscribers. The news channels, on the other hand, not only get little from the viewers but are required to pay the broadcasting distribution companies. So the plight of NDTV sheds light on the fact that the viewers also have a huge responsibility in helping to maintain free media. People who believe that news media should have differing points of view and who think that it is not enough to know only the saffronised eulogy. must also be willing to provide the necessary support for the existence of independent media.

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TAGS:Gautam adani NDTV NDTV-takeover Adani Group-NDTV PM Modi Mukesh Ambani Radhika and Prannoy Roy RRPR Holding Company SEBI Reliance MediaWorks Limited Star India Raghav Bahl The Quint Gujarat Riots 2002 Press Freedom Free Press media freedom Adani Group 
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