Asia’s richest man has launched a hostile bid to take over an influential broadcaster in India and gain a firmer footing in the country’s vibrant media space.
AMG Media Networks, a unit of billionaire Gautam Adani’s conglomerate, said in a statement late on Tuesday that it has acquired a 29% stake in New Delhi Television (NDTV) by buying one of the network’s major shareholders for an undisclosed amount.
It has also set in motion an offer to NDTV shareholders to buy another 26% stake in the broadcaster for $61.77 million, according to filings by the Adani Group to the Mumbai stock exchange.
“This acquisition is a significant milestone” for AMG Media Networks, Sanjay Pugalia, the CEO of the company said in a statement. The firm “seeks to empower Indian citizens, consumers and those interested in India, with information and knowledge,” he added.
NDTV, which operates TV channels and websites, said that the move was carried out without its consent.
Adani had acquired the 29% stake in the company without any “discussion, consent or notice,” the founders and promoters of NDTV said in a statement.
Founded in 1988 by journalists Radhika Roy and Prannoy Roy, NDTV is regarded as one of the most credible news networks in India. It is also one of the few major broadcasters that is often critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Concerns about editorial independence
Adani’s move has sparked fears about shrinking editorial freedom and plurality in the world’s largest democracy.
Prominent Indian media groups often have interests in other industries, according to a 2019 report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which said most of the leading companies are owned by “large conglomerates that are still controlled by the founding families and that invest in a vast array of industries other than media.”
This means that TV channels and newspapers need to stay in the good books of the ruling party, and go easy on its failures, because their owners need favorable regulatory policies for their other businesses, experts say.
Adani, the founder of Adani Group, controls companies ranging from ports and aerospace to solar energy and coal. His fortune has grown exponentially since the pandemic started as investors bet on his ability to grow his business in sectors Modi has prioritized for development.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Adani is currently worth $135 billion, making him the fourth richest man in the world.
However, the group’s media foray comes at a time when its debt-fueled rapid expansion has become a matter of concern for analysts.
“The Adani Group is increasingly venturing into new and/or unrelated businesses, which are highly capital intensive and raises concerns regarding spreading execution oversight too thin,” wrote analysts at CreditSights in a report on Tuesday.