What happens when there is a stand-off between the country’s largest media organization and one of our leading business houses' Precisely the sort of cold war that has been raging between the Tatas and the Times of India group, that is Bennett, Coleman & Co., for several months now.
Tata advertisements, even the TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) cornucopia that is smothering all other newspapers and magazines, are not to be seen in any Times group publication, not even in the Times of India or the Economic Times, India’s largest-circulating daily and business newspaper respectively. Almost a quarter of the Rs 200-crore annual ad budget of the Tatas used to go to the Times group kitty. No longer. All that the Tata’s PR agency would say is, “It depends on the ad strategy.”
Times-group journalists are not welcome at Tata dos, even press conferences, at least in Mumbai, the headquarters of the Tata group. The last few weeks saw a clutch of press conferences in Mumbai by various Tata companies. Times group reporters were not present at any. They were, reportedly, not invited.
In turn, the Times group has been less than enthusiastic about Tata exploits. Its dailies ignored TCS’s takeover of a BPO enterprise, buried the corporate results of Tata Steel and Tata Motors in some insignificant corner, underplayed the declaration of TCS’s IPO, slated to be the biggest ever issue by a private sector Indian company, carried the launch of indiOne, the budget line of Indian Hotels, as a city event in its Bangalore edition but not elsewhere, the list goes on.
But that is as far as the media can go. The fight between a news purveyor, however large and influential, and a newsmaker that is a powerful corporate house is an unequal one. The latter can live without the former but not the other way round, not quite.
The Tatas can express their unhappiness over reports in the Economic Times that they felt were too negative by blackballing the entire Times group because the choice in the media scene today is so varied and dispersed.
On the other hand, the Times group cannot black out the Tatas completely, not if they want to keep their readers happy. So, like it or not, Economic Times had to front-page the news of a massive IPO like TCS’s. May be it would have led with it in different times, or may be not. Editorial decisions are not so easy to read.
How this face-off will end is known. As such contretemps usually do, with the newspaper group eating humble pie and surrendering to the business house. What is remarkable is that Bennett Coleman, reputedly the most bottomline-savvy media company going, has not done so already.
There could be many reasons for bringing out a newspaper. You may have something to say, an ideology, a worldview to propagate. Or you may want to influence policy and wield power. Or you may even spot a window of opportunity in a place where there is no newspaper or no local paper or whatever. The reasons can be legion, some noble, some not so.
But it would be difficult to think up anything worse than starting a paper only to be able to offer combined advertisement rates for the mother paper. But that alone would explain the Dainik Statesman, the Bengali paper launched by the venerable Statesman from this Monday.
It’s not that there aren’t enough Bengali papers, there are enough already. It’s not that Dainik Statesman has anything new to say. Rather, all that it promises to be is the Bengali version of its progenitor. Its well-wishers, going by the 24-page supplement that accompanies the first issue, want it to be so.
Almost all of them have been reading The Statesman for the last 50 years or more and they want the Dainik Statesman to live up to the ideals of the Statesman of those days, the Statesman of Arthur Moore, Robert Knight, Ian Stephens, G.A. Johnson, those “saheb” editors so lovingly remembered by them. May be they’ve got their wish. It’ll be a wonder if Statesman gets its: a respite from the headlong rush downhill.