In the world of Telugu media, the ouster of Ravi Prakash, the CEO of TV9 has been nothing short of an upheaval. When he launched TV9 a decade and a half ago, Ravi Prakash emerged as a pioneer in the world of Telugu broadcast journalism. Over the years, he branched out into several languages, establishing a leadership position in many of them. The latest venture from the group stable was TV9 Bharatvarsh in Hindi this year and was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The investors, Alanda Media took over Associated Broadcasting Private Limited (ABCL), the holding company of TV9 at a reported cost of Rs 450 crore in August 2018. They have now leveled charges of forgery, cheating and criminal conspiracy against Ravi Prakash. He has been removed as CEO and all his powers revoked after a meeting of shareholders on 10 May to which he was not allowed entry.
On 9 May, in the face of rumours that he was absconding, Ravi Prakash went live from the TV9 studio in Hyderabad to convey all was well. But within 24 hours, things went topsy-turvy and Ravi Prakash in a strongly worded resignation letter, accused the new Board of forcing its way in.
“You are representatives of political honchos who are out there to devour `EVERY’ journalist and independent media house today,” he wrote.
Ravi Prakash spoke to T S Sudhir and opened up on the charges leveled against him, dismissing them as “useless” and alleged interference in editorial matters at TV9 by the new owners.
T S Sudhir : You are accused of evading the police who had issued summons to appear before them for questioning on 15 May. Do we understand you are on the run?
Ravi Prakash : These two cases are false cases, Sudhir. The first one is a private agreement between me and my friend. But they are trying to slap fraud and cheating allegations against me. If the two private parties do not have an issue, where do the police come in from? The second case pertains to the resignation of our company secretary. They say the resignation letter is forged. I told them let the forensic lab check and verify it. For that they are not prepared. These are completely useless cases.
With political involvement, Jupally Rameshwar Rao of My Home Group of companies (real estate firm) and Krishna Reddy of Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited are armtwisting us. My home, office were searched, a panic situation was created. They occupied the TV9 office.
Sudhir : Things are not looking good for you with allegations of forgery.
Ravi : These charges won’t stand in court, Sudhir. As I said, it is a private agreement between me and actor Sivaji. I had promised 40000 shares to Sivaji last year. For some reasons, the process was delayed. He wanted the shares this year and there was email correspondence between Sivaji and me about it. So we signed it this year. It is an agreement between two private parties, why are they bothered about it. They hacked into my email account to get the correspondence between me and Sivaji.
Sudhir : You went to the vacation bench of the Telangana High court, asking them to hear the case on an urgent basis but the judges asked you to wait till the court vacation ends in June and the regular court sits.
Ravi : Yes, it is vacation time. I have been told they want to keep me behind bars for up to one and a half months without securing bail.
Sudhir : Who has said that to you?
Ravi : These two people. Rameshwar Rao and Krishna Reddy.
Sudhir : Did the two gentlemen say so to you directly?
Ravi : Not directly but through their people. This is threatening and intimidation. Our company Financial Officer MKVN Murthy is being summoned by the police for the past five days. They take him to the police station every morning and make him sit all day.
Sudhir : You mean he is not questioned by the Cyberabad police but just made to sit?
Ravi : If he is there at the police station for eight hours, he is questioned only for 15 minutes.
Sudhir : And you see this as deliberate harassment?
Ravi : Yes. It is not as if he is not available for questioning.
Sudhir : Are you fearful of being framed?
Ravi : I am not fearful of being framed. This is a business dispute, what is the role of the police machinery in it. The two businessmen want to completely take over the company and see me out. Their taking over the office is a hostile takeover.
Sudhir : But technically, with 90.5 per cent stake in ABCL, the holding company of TV9, they are the majority stakeholders. You own 8.25 per cent in the company.
Ravi : They lied to grab TV9. And both Rao and Reddy and hand-in-glove. Initially, they said each of them will have just 20 per cent stake and will get in some investors from Mumbai for the remaining part. But when Rameshwar Rao took 56 per cent stake, I protested. I was told there was political pressure to go for it.
Sudhir : Do you get the feeling that you are cornered?
Ravi : See Sudhir, Rameshwar Rao owns 10TV. They have invested in NTV. They are hounding me, not allowing my version from getting into mainstream media because they have stakes in so many media channels.
Sudhir : The share purchase agreement was completed in August 2018. Was there interference in editorial matters since then? Was the working relationship between you as the CEO and the new majority shareholders different from what existed between you and Srini Raju, the previous majority stakeholder?
Ravi : Srini Raju was a private equity player. These are family proprietary firms. Before taking over, these people said Ravi Prakash will be the heart and soul of TV9, will take all editorial calls. But after taking over, things changed. They told me you should listen to us. We have political and business interests.
Sudhir : Tell me specific stories where this interference played out.
Ravi : Take the example of the Revanth Reddy story. In September 2018, there was a raid on (Telangana Congress Working President) Revanth Reddy. They forced us to do stories with a particular slant. This was just three months before the Telangana assembly elections and they wanted to use the TV9 stories on the raids to damage his reputation. What did it result in? Revanth Reddy filed a defamation case against us. They were killing the credibility of TV9.
Sudhir : It is obvious who will benefit from a negative story on Revanth Reddy. Are you alleging that political pressure was brought upon the new TV9 owners to do their bidding?
Ravi : I do not want to speak on record on this, Sudhir.
Sudhir : Was the TV9 coverage, including your 9 pm show on the Intermediate results suicides last month, a flashpoint?
Ravi : It was. We saw this as a serious failure of the system that 26 students committed suicide. They did not like this as they saw this as criticism of the Telangana government. They want the entire media in Telangana to only support what the government does.
Sudhir : You are said to be close to the Telugu Desam. Is this in that sense, becoming a political battle as well?
Ravi : I am not pro-TDP. On many occasions, Chandrababu Naidu has got angry with our reportage. Jaganmohan Reddy wanted us to support him. We believe in balanced journalism, not like Sakshi TV.
Sudhir : Even Pawan Kalyan was not happy with TV9. His outrage against the channel became very personal vis-a-vis you.
Ravi : He could not handle the aggressive posture of our news presentation.
Sudhir : Does it upset you that other media houses are now running a campaign against you.
Ravi : Yes, they want to hit when you are down.
Sudhir : There are also reports that you could be looking at taking over another Telugu TV channel and relaunch it.
Ravi : No, no, I am not talking to anyone. I need to come out of this first and then decide what to do.
Sudhir : Is Ravi Prakash disappearing from the media scene?
Ravi : No, I am not disappearing. This is a temporary phase to corner me. Police are overacting in this case.
Sudhir : Have you been sleeping well at night?
Ravi : (laughs) Why not? I sleep well.