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One Needs Courage To Do What Prannoy Roy Did

By SANJAY AHIRWAL
Last updated on: December 01, 2022 19:30 IST
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Today, when news organisations and their owners have stooped before the powers that be when they were only asked to bend, Prannoy still stands tall, asserts Sanjay Ahirwal, former managing editor, NDTV Worldwide.

IMAGE: NDTV Co-founder Prannoy Roy. Photograph: PTI Photo

Since 2014, the Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation, Income Tax Department tried their best to nail Prannoy and Radhika Roy for some alleged wrongdoing. They even tried to break former NDTV CEO, the late K V L Narayan Rao, and Vikram Chandra, but the Roys had created such a formidable company that even their combined might failed to gather any proof of wrongdoing against them.

When it became evident that the combined might of the administrative machinery under the government's control was unable to bend the Roys' will to defend themselves, pressure was allegedly wrought upon NDTV's advertisers to stop their ads. The government wanted NDTV to fold up, by hook or by crook.

NDTV started going through financial difficulties when big corporates stopped their advertisements. But the Roys too were determined to face up to such intimidation. NDTV kept chugging along. Suparna Singh was brought in as the CEO. Unnecessary flab was shed. Content creation was optimised; NDTV.com led the way.

Gradually, NDTV began to see good days.

This was unacceptable to the powers that be. Their every plan to shut down NDTV's shop was failing miserably. It was then decided to use the might of money power.

IMAGE: Standing: Former Indian Express editor Dr Arun Shourie and NDTV Special Correspondent Manoranjan Bharti.
Seated, from right to left: Legendary columnist Kuldip Nayar, former Statesman editor Surendra Nihal Singh, former Hindustan Times editor H K Dua and Dr Prannoy Roy at a protest meeting against the CBI raids on NDTV promoters Radhika and Dr Roy's homes at the Press Club of India, New Delhi, June 8, 2017. Photograph: Subhav Shukla/PTI Photo

I have some unsolicited advice for Mr Gautam Adani: You may now have complete ownership of NDTV's balance sheet, but NDTV's soul and spirit are beyond you.

It is the soul that was nurtured by the blood and sweat of people like the late Appan Menon, K V L Narayan Rao, and Shivani Jajodia.

Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt and Arnab Goswami may no longer be with NDTV today, but if you have the time and the desire to find out you will still find a lot of NDTV spirit shining off their armour.

See how each one of them is progressing on their own capabilities today. That's the charisma of the NDTV spirit they imbibed during their stint there.

But it is too much to hope that you will ever be able to feel the spirit of the NDTV family that was nurtured and inculcated by Prannoy-Radhika.

They looked after each and every member of NDTV as family.

Just so that you know let me put some facts on record.

In 1995 when NDTV started The News Tonight, Padmanand Jha, who had come from Outlook magazine, was its political editor. But he felt he was not cut out for electronic media so he went back to Outlook. Unfortunately, he met with an accident near his home in NOIDA that left him critically injured and in no position to work. A year later, Jha lost his job at Outlook.

Prannoy-Radhika hired Paddy (as Jha was fondly called by his colleagues) again so that his treatment could be taken care of.

A car would bring Paddy to the NDTV office; he would sit there the whole day, sip two-three cups of coffee and the same car would drop him home in the evening. This routine went on for years.

Paddy passed away this year. May the Almighty bless his soul!

Let me fill you in with one more instance of the Roys' magnanimity. You must know one Ravish Kumar. Ravish had just joined NDTV. His father suddenly fell ill. Ravish took him to Apollo Hospital where the doctors recommended an immediate operation and that it would cost him Rs 100,000.

When a troubled Ravish couldn't think of anything he rang up Radhika Roy.

Radhika, who didn't even know then of an NDTV employee named Ravish Kumar, immediately sent the money with instructions that she be informed if any more help was needed.

Within a few days Ravish's father was back home, in good health.

Likewise, there are umpteen such instances of the Roys' benevolence, but pardon me for sharing one more with you. One day news was received that Varnita Pant, who worked with NDTV as a production assistant, lost her mother suddenly due to a heart attack.

Varnita, who had already lost her father, had to take care of her sister studying in a school in Dehradun.

Prannoy-Radhika immediately made provisions for a car and requested channel producer Shivani Jajodia to accompany Varnita to Dehradun. Shivani was told she must take good care of the two sisters and come back with them to Delhi only after they were comfortable.

What kind of bosses take such care of their employees!

Let's forget about NDTV as a family and its famed spirit... You may not even be aware of how NDTV 24x7 and NDTV India came into being. This again is a story about Prannoy-Radhika's grit.

In 2003, when Rupert Murdoch asked for editorial control of Star News that was run jointly by Murdoch and NDTV, Prannoy Roy decided to part ways with Fox News' multi-billionaire owner.

Prannoy-Radhika were opposed to the idea of editorial control of an Indian news channel falling into the hands of a foreign company. And in those days nobody spoke of nationalism and Made-In-India.

As luck would have it, an economic downturn set in following the dotcom bust of 2002 and the Roys had to take a loan of Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) from Mukesh Ambani to pay off bank loans and run the operations of NDTV.

It's the same loan that led to the Roys losing control of NDTV.

IMAGE: Prannoy Roy anchors an election programme on NDTV.

In good times, when the markets were stable, NDTV took good care of a lot of people. But that did not stop a number of its employees from quitting NDTV owing to differences over issues.

Barkha (Dutt) and Arnab (Goswami) had their differences with NDTV and were quite upset with the Roys. But both would acknowledge that they attained a special status during their stints at NDTV.

Even so, while those who quit NDTV may badmouth the company, Prannoy and Radhika have never said anything bad about them.

That's why the markets still respect Prannoy Roy.

Even today when news organisations and their owners have stooped before the powers that be when they were only asked to bend, Prannoy is still standing tall.

One needs courage, grit to do what Prannoy Roy is doing.

A final anecdote: The year when Barkha, Rajdeep (Sardesai) and Vinod Dua were awarded the Padma Shri, the government had sent feelers to Prannoy to know if he would accept a Padma Bhushan.

Prannoy politely turned down the overture. He stood for neutrality of journalists. He believed that journalists should not accept awards from the government.

That's Prannoy Roy for you.

Sanjay Ahirwal worked at NDTV for 16 years and for 7 years at NDTV Worldwide. He joined NDTV as a reporter in 1995 and left it as a managing editor in 2018.

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