96224"They wanted a complete blackout of Kejriwal and AAP"
- Jun 26, 2014Extract from
Inside the Network18 takeover How Raghav Bahl lost control of the media
company he started two decades ago to Reliance Industries
Ashish K. Mishra
First Published: Mon, Jun 23 2014. 12 54 AM IST
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Sometime in early March, Sardesai had got a call from Ambani, who was livid.
"He was like-why is the channel (CNN-IBN and IBN7) venting all kinds of
views against him?" said a former Network18 official who is aware of the
conversation. He didn't want to be named.
Throughout the run-up to the November-December state assembly elections and
its aftermath, Ambani had been angered by the attacks made on him by Arvind
Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The party had captured the
public imagination and gone on to form a short-lived government in Delhi.
Kejriwal had gone all guns blazing for Ambani-in press conferences,
speeches, at rallies and pleas to the Anti-Corruption Branch. He had made
To begin with, he had named Ambani in accusations about crony capitalism; he
then filed a first information report (FIR) against him, along with RIL and
some central government ministers and officials over alleged irregularities
in the pricing of natural gas from the Krishna-Godavari basin off India's
All of Kejriwal's allegations were being aired live on national television,
fuelling further criticism on social media. RIL, a $66 billion energy firm,
wanted to react but didn't know how. Suing newspapers and television
channels was one thing-suing Kejriwal quite another. Threatening him with a
lawsuit didn't work. One-off statements from the communications team
summarily denying those allegations weren't good enough either. RIL finally
reached out to several global communications agencies for help.
Sometime in late February, the leadership team of New Century, a
London-based media agency, flew down to India and had a crisis meeting with
the top brass at RIL, according to a former Network18 official who asked not
to be named.
In the past, New Century had advised several leading political parties,
wealthy individuals and CEOs of multinational corporations such as BP Plc,
British Airways, Prada SpA and the Arsenal football club.
Mint couldn't independently verify if the agency had finally received a
mandate from RIL. At this juncture, a call to Sardesai seemed like a good
idea. After all, RIL indirectly owned Network18. "They wanted a complete
blackout of Kejriwal and AAP," said another Network18 official who was privy
to the conversation but did not want to be identified. "Rajdeep refused,
saying it was just not possible. He stood by the spirit of journalism. So
they were miffed that the channel had not boycotted the AAP."
Pressure was mounting on Bahl, too. According to an RIL official who is now
part of the takeover team at Network18 but refused to be identified, Manoj
Modi, the right-hand man of Mukesh Ambani, reached out to Bahl. "Modi was
furious. He was like-'tum humko dacoit bulate ho, tum chilla rahe ho ki hum
crony capitalist hai. Agar aisa tha to dacoit se paise mangne kyon aye the?
Tum kaun se doodh ke dhule ho?' (You are calling us a dacoit, you are
shouting that we are crony capitalists. If that is so, then why did you come
to us for money in the first place? Do you think you have a clean record?),"
says the official.