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And related accusations.

November 13, 2016

The eponymous Bennett and Coleman did own the company, buying it in 1892. In 1948, it was sold from one Indian to another, Ram Krishna Dalmia to Sahu Jain, though there seems to be something fishy in the way it happened:

 In the early ’60s, as the tax-noose was tightening around Dalmia, he was reportedly given the option by the Finance Ministry to produce overnight Rs 2 crore and clear his tax dues if he wanted to avoid imprisonment. Dalmia secured the money from Jain in exchange for his two biggest money-spinners, Bennet Coleman (the publishers of the Times of India group) and Rohtas Industries. It is alleged that Jain secured ownership of the two companies on the condition that he would give them back to Dalmia after his problems were sorted out. Jain let him down by refusing to give back either of the two companies.

From that time onwards, the Jain family has owned the Times Group, with the grandsons now running the company. Sahu Jain’s son, Ashok Jain took control of the business; now his sons Vineet Jain and Samir Jain are in charge of the company. There are more family members; Wikipedia lists 3 other children of Sahu Jain, but the details remain hazy; Samir Jain has a wife, Meera Jain and a daughter, Trishla Jain. Unrelatedly, Mr Ashok Jain was also involved in an infamous investigation case, back in 1998.

It’s not as if people haven’t tried to get to the bottom of this behemoth of a business group; Paranjoy Guha Thakurta took apart the 2010-11 annual report of BCCL and explained almost all the numbers related to it, and their inference. For instance, here’s a pretty illustrative statement:

The fact that BCCL’s “other income” during 2010-11 aggregated Rs 296.76 crore against Rs 374.21 crore earned as revenue from sale of publications, implies that the company can theoretically distribute its newspapers free of charge and still earn handsome profits’

What he also brings to the fore, is the history of BCCL’s corporate dealings. Here’s an excerpt from the April 2010 report of the sub-committee (of which he was a part) of the Press Council of India (PCI) entitled “Paid News: How Corruption in the Indian Media Undermines Democracy”:

BCCL devised … (an) ‘innovative’ marketing and PR (public relations) strategy. In 2005, ten companies, including Videocon India and Kinetic Motors, allotted unknown amounts of equity shares to BCCL as part of a deal to enable these firms to receive advertising space in BCCL-owned media ventures. The success of the scheme turned BCCL into one of the largest private equity investors in India. At the end of 2007, the media company boasted of investments in 140 companies in aviation, media, retail and entertainment, among other sectors, valued at an estimated Rs 1,500 crore.

It is 2016, and the so-called ‘private treaty’ agreement is still here:

Online classified platform Quikr has raised $19.4 Mn (INR 130 Cr) in a debt financing round led by Brand Capital, the private treaty arm of media company Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL). As part of the deal, BCCL has also entered into a ‘privacy treaty deal’ with Quikr. According to the terms of the deal, BCCL will publish ads for predetermined number of years in ET Now, Times Now, Economic Times and Times of India, as per people close to the development.

Therefore, BCCL is stepping into e-commerce too!

With the investment in Quikr, BCCL will soon have an investment in three big home-grown consumer internet start-ups. The company is in advanced talks to pick up a small stake in Flipkart Ltd for Rs.500 crore and had picked up a stake in Snapdeal (Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd) in February this year.

While BCCL has thus laid down standards for the rest of the industry.

The so-called private treaty deals were first introduced by BCCL in 2004 to build a large portfolio of holdings. Such deals were once controversial, especially because they also involved positive media coverage.

But since then, such deals have become commonplace, and meet mandated disclosure norms. At BCCL, private treaties are handled by the company’s Brand Capital unit. HT Media Ltd, the publisher of Mint and Hindustan Times, has its own version of such deals.

Kumar Roy, on his blog, claims that in the financial year ending March 2014, Vinit Jain took home Rs. 46.37 crore. In comparison, as he states, the India Today CEO took home Rs. 4.4 crore while the BCCL CEO took home Rs. 11 crore in the financial year ending March 2013. Jaideep Bose, Editorial Director, TOI, got around Rs. 1.9 crore in FY14.

And even more fascinating is what then-BCCL CEO Ravi Dhariwal says:

Our supplements or features are not news. To say that our Education Times (a supplement) is news, or our Delhi Times (another daily supplement) is news is to change the meaning of news. They are not under the editorial control of The Times of India editor. Our main paper is news—and there is no paid news.

We would like to believe that. We really would.


About the author: Hitesh Shetty
Dreams of writing a bestseller and changing the world. When awake, tries to figure out how to do both.

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