How private treaties influence reporting

The Times of India was careful to leave out the name of its Private Treaty partner while reporting a worksite accident in Bengaluru.
CLIFTON D’ROZARIO reports.

At around 2.30 pm on 10th May, 2008, at a construction site on Bannerghatta Road in Bengaluru, a lift being used by workers malfunctioned and dropped 18 floors, causing the death of 2 workers and leaving 7 workers severely injured. Sobha Magnolia is a 19-storey super luxury apartment complex being constructed by Sobha Developers. Due to the immense force of dropping from such a height, the lift repeatedly bounced up and down several times before stopping. Of the 7 injured, three have been discharged while the remaining 4 are still undergoing treatment. Each of the injured have suffered multiple fractures and other injuries.

 

This article is not about this accident per se or the dismal working conditions of the workers; nor is it about their paltry wages or the ¿labour camps¿ comprising tin sheds in which they are forced to live. This does not also aim to look at the pathetic conditions these construction workers who are all migrant workers from North Karnataka and other states including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, U.P., Bihar and even Assam.

 

This is about the third casualty in the accident: honest reporting and freedom of the press.

On 12th May 2008, the Times of India reported that:

"Lift crash leaves 2 dead, 7 hurt

Two occupants in a lift died and seven others were injured on Saturday after the lift crashed to the lower basement at the construction site of a residential apartment on Bannerghatta Road."

 

Then, again on 8th June the Times of India reported that:

"LIFT CRASH

SHRC chief takes officials to task

The State Human Rights Commission has asked a private construction company to ensure complete and fair compensation to families of two workers who dies and seven who were injured in a lift crash in an apartment building under construction on Bannerghatta Road. The accident took place on May 10.…

The accident occurred on May 10 at the construction site of a multi-storeyed super-luxury apartment on Bannerghatta Road."

 

Note that the Times of India does not name the company, Sobha Developers in reports unlike all the other English and Kannada newspapers, which explicitly did so.

I began to wonder why. Is it because Sobha Developers contributes revenue to the Times of India in terms of advertising? Or is there something more? And then I stumbled upon www.timesprivatetreaties.com. It talks about Private Treaties and this being an "innovative venture from the Times of India group, India¿s largest and most successful media conglomerate..." Apparently, Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd., the publishers of Times of India, has entered into a Private Treaty with Sobha Developers, whereby through this arrangement BCCL picks up law equity stakes in companies, in return receiving long-term advertising and other publicity deals.

 

Earlier this year, Business Standard reported that Bennett bought 500,000 shares in soft toys and linen manufacturer Hanung Toys & Textiles Ltd for roughly Rs 7 crore about two years ago. It goes on to state that the company¿s promoter A K Bansal isn¿t complaining. First, Times bought Hanung¿s shares at a premium. Secondly, its ad campaigns were released in The Times of India and The Economic Times and it has already used up advertising space worth Rs 5 crore to Rs 6 crore.

 

Being the pioneer in this art of business, BCCL have an entire division solely devoted to it. At present BCCL has entered into Private Treaties with about 175 companies straddling sectors such as real estate, education, entertainment, healthcare, infrastructure and consumer durables, among others. These companies include Birla Power Solutions Ltd, Deccan Aviation, Pantaloon, Provogue, Spice Mobiles Limited, Videocon Industries Ltd, Deccan Aviation, India Infoline, The Home Store, Amity Education, Paramount Airways, Future Group, Sahara One and Percept Pictures, among others.

 

In an article for India-Seminar on "The changing Indian media scene", T.N. Ninan, editor of Business Standard, described Private Treaties as "basically the transfer of shares in return for advertising." He said, Bennett Coleman & Co, which owns the Times of India group of publications, "invests in usually mid-rung companies that are keen to jump into the big league but are perhaps without the big bucks to spend on marketing. The share purchase money is immediately taken back against the promise of guaranteed advertising in Bennett publications—to build the investee company¿s brand(s). Part of the deal is even said to be editorial coverage, though this remains unconfirmed."

 

Sucheta Dalal, while commenting on BCCL and its Private Treaties had cautioned that; "Investors must know the exact list of Times PT clients (which is available on their website for easy reference) because you are least likely to hear any bad news about these companies."

 

However, it is not just the investors who need to worry. The general public needs to worry since we are not going to read any "bad news" about any of these companies. All we would read is; "The accident occurred on May 10 at the construction site of a multi-storeyed super-luxury apartment on Bannerghatta Road".  Sobha Developers will not be found with any negative reference.

 

According to the Business Standard, more and more Indian media companies are following in The Times of India way. Earlier this year, the Business Standard reported that HT Media (publisher of Hindustan Times), Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran and TV networks like Network 18 (formerly TV18) and NDTV Ltd have set up or are in the process of setting up private treaty divisions. The trend is obviously growing considering the financial gains to the media houses, but at the cost of the reader, his right to honest and complete reporting and importantly, freedom of the press.

 

 

 

The Times¿ Private Treaty partners can be found at http://www.timesprivatetreaties.com/portfolio.html

 

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