Guest ColumnRetrofit: A telecom scam of epic proportions

This week Sandeep Bamzai seeks to unravel the telecom tangle that 3G and 2G auctions have turned out to be. One of those involved is Telecom Minister A Raja, who’s taped conversations with a lobbyist rocked the nation. However, majority of the media, which usually relentlessly pursues such scams seems to have turned a blind eye to the development the investigation was not taken to its logical culmination, says Bamzai.

e4m by Sandeep Bamzai
Published: May 19, 2010 8:00 AM  | 8 min read
Guest Column<br>Retrofit: A telecom scam of epic proportions

When media gets that bit between its teeth, it is very difficult to shake off. More so, when the electronic media is involved. As Parliament was coming to a close, the Telecom Minister A Raja tapes rocked the nation. At first, Headlines Today aired the transcripts, but when Raja refused to bite the bait, saying that it wasn’t his voice on the tapes, Headlines Today nailed his lie fairly and squarely despite enormous legal pressure. The tapes, when they were aired, were a bombshell as the voices were unmistakably the Telecom Minister’s and a top female lobbyist’s. All hell broke loose because the conversations showed that the Telecom Minister from UPA 1 was lobbying for the same portfolio with a lobbyist. All this long before the Cabinet was sworn in. The Prime Minister’s sole prerogative had suddenly been usurped by an all powerful lobbyist. Anyway, the Opposition turned into rabble rousers and the AIADMK went on the rampage in Parliament. But strangely, the principal Opposition party maintained its distance from the controversy as speculation was rife in the Capital that some of its top leaders were also involved with the same lobbyist and due to this proximity, they did not want to be ensnared in the maelstrom.

Just as the Raja tapes reached a crescendo, the Parliament session ended and a brilliant expose fell virtually flat on its face. Its lifespan curtailed. The Opposition in any case in disarray conveniently forgot its job of haranguing the treasury. Elephants and camels were intrepidly and conveniently brushed under the carpet. The investigation was not taken to its logical culmination. Why? Primarily, because the rest of media hardly stepped up to the plate. Either Raja or the lobbyist had got to nearly all of it or nobody wanted to tango such powerful personages. I must add that ET did carry a couple of stories, Pioneer did a sterling job and HT, surprisingly, put all the Government investigation missives on its webiste - letters are a slam dunk indictment of all that is wrong with governance.

But what was essentially a matter of propriety, probity and integrity became farcical because media pushed the real story out and ran detailed reports on lobbyists - Outlook did a cover, Sunday HT ran a full page, but the impressive Headlines Today investigation died a natural death. The rest of English and Hindi electronic media chose to turn a blind eye to the event. Sad and a trifle unfortunate too. In many ways a travesty. For the most telling image was of a young Headlines Today reporter in Chennai being pushed away by A Raja’s men. Not since the days of the vintage Indian Express of the latter half of the 1980s had I seen a rocking and sustained campaign like this. As Express went after Reliance and the late Rajiv Gandhi government, it became a symbol of crusading and the very embodiment of being fearless and upholder of the truth. Remember Mohan Katre and ‘needle of suspicion’ among the long line of deadly dangerous stories and the dripped-in-vitriol pen of one of the greatest journos of his time – Arun Shourie. It is a time that can never return in Indian journalism. It was an age when innocence was betrayed, it was found that symbols and images of power had clay feet and of course it reaffirmed the might of the pen like never before. Indian Express was the tallest newspaper of that generation and this seamlessly morphed into the Harshad Mehta engineered securities scam in the earlier 1990s. Though my old friend Sucheta Dalal broke that story and threw down the gauntlet at other journos, it was picked up by a team of reporters at Express led by Raghu Nandan Dhar, which just didn’t leave that bit between its teeth to write some outstanding stories.

But Headlines Today just for a brief while reminded me of that age. I was a lowly reporter in Indian Express at that point in time and can never forget those years till the time I die. But what is at the core of the expose? Yes, ministerial propriety and probity undoubtedly, but more than that it is a gargantuan telecom scam. And Pioneer needs to be credited for chasing it down. India’s sunshine sector - telecom - has been mired in litigation, blood feuds between operators, including back door entries, cash in mattresses and what have you. And yet it is part of every individual’s axis - work, play, call it what you want. This is a telecom scam of epic proportions.

I will explain how: With the passing of each day, the Government’s kitty swells in an unimaginable manner. Despite tactical and strategic bidding, remember that excess demand has been seen only in five circles, negative demand in as many as 13 circles. On Tuesday, the total realisation from the 3G auction crossed Rs 65,000 crore and change. That is what the Government will garner through the asset sale of precious national resource - spectrum. This is much higher than the anticipated budgetary proceeds of Rs 35,000 crore. Almost parallely, telecom regulator TRAI put out its recommendations to peg 2G prices at 36 auction rates. Do you know what this does? It de-validates the hypothesis floating around the city of Delhi that A Raja’s farcical first come first served sale of licences a couple of years back to realtors was above board and, more importantly, based on TRAI recommendations. The loss was not merely notional, but real. And let me tell you how.

Pan Indian licences in 3G auction have gone for approximately Rs 16,000 crore plus. Right? So, let us do our math now. Rs 16,000 crore for 5 mhz spectrum over 22 circles, correct? I am rounding off all numbers here and hence, it works out to Rs 145 crore per mhz of the precious commodity (16,000 divided by 5 divided by 22). Tellingly, with 2G pegged at 3G rates courtesy TRAI in its 20X avatar, this works out to Rs 17 crore per mhz as the rate at which realtors were given out licences last time round. Did I hear, shocking? Now, eight times 17 works out to close to Rs 136 crore, which means that real price discovery has already taken place. But the Department of Telecom chose to ignore it in its wisdom.

Let me explain how? Swan Telecom sold shares to UAE’s Etisalat at a valuation of Rs 9,600 crore or at 7.5 times of the price that it paid (Rs 1,537 crore for 13 circles) while another realtor, Unitech, sold shares to Norway’s Telenor at a valuation of Rs 11,000 crore, or at eight times the price that it paid for 22 circles - Rs 1,651 crore. In effect, this acted as a price discovery mechanism for the future. And the 3G auction has revalidated this pricing of eight times, but the only harsh reality is that while the Government got a pittance in 2G, the realtors pocketed big bucks without so much as a by your leave. The bottomline is that there is no notional loss, but a real loss to the exchequer. The only difference being that a private auction conducted by Raja and those in cahoots with him replaced a big bang bruising public auction like the one on for 3G. Meanwhile, due to these policy and regulatory faux pas, operators are discovering the real cost of operations in India. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and others now have to pay additional amounts for use of 2G spectrum, while new players handed out largesse by Raja get away scot free.

Shashi Tharoor was snuffed out by media for a lot less. How I wish media had kept the bit between its teeth and brought the Telecom Minister and the lady lobbyist crashing down. Instead, large swathes of media chose to deliberately ignore this dramatic happening and investigation conducted by some of the smaller players in the media vector. The primacy of news has been re-established. There are others who will turn around and argue that these leaks may have been inspired. But that doesn’t take away the suzerainty of two important things - some were bold enough to take a chance and go with the story and of course the ‘paramountcy’ of truth. The tapes do exist, the nexus has been established beyond doubt and the loss to the exchequer is real and not notional. Check the aformentioned link on website to understand the gravity and enormity of the investigation. Finally, a word on the two principal investigators -

Vineet Agarwal of CBI and Milap Jain of DIT - both of whom were transferred earlier this year. I guess with them died the investigation as well.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.

The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of

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Cable operators write to TRAI to push for OTT regulation: Report

TRAI is currently conduction a study on licensing OTT content and will be releasing consultation papers for the same

By exchange4media Staff | May 18, 2023 11:26 AM   |   1 min read


In a push to create a level-playing field for TV and streaming content, multiple cable operators have reportedly approached the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to regulate OTT platforms.

A news report said that cable operators approached the regulatory authority as they felt threatened by the unbridled rise of OTT players. TRAI, on its part, has yet to come to a decision and is currently conducting a study on licensing OTT content; consultation papers for the same will be released in due time.

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Shemaroo Entertainment’s revenue from operations up 46% YoY

The company has reported 94% YoY rise in EBITDA

By exchange4media Staff | May 16, 2023 12:49 PM   |   2 min read


Shemaroo Entertainment’s revenue from operations for the fiscal ended 31st March 2023 has increased by 45.9 % to Rs 556.6 crore as compared to Rs 381.4 crore in the previous fiscal ended 31st March 2022.

For the fourth quarter ended 31st March 2023, the company’s revenue surged 75.8 % to Rs 164.5 crore compared to Rs 93.6 crore in the corresponding quarter of the previous fiscal.

Announcing Shemaroo Entertainment’s financial results for the fourth quarter and financial year ending 31st March 2023, the company CEO Hiren Gada said, “Considering the external economic scenario, I am very pleased with our overall performance in this financial year.”

The company’s Profit After Tax (PAT) was up by 136.5 % to Rs 4.8 crores compared to Rs 2.1 crores in the fourth quarter ended 31st March 2022.

Commenting on the results, Gada said, “We started on this journey of changing our business strategy in 2019 and against all odds and headwinds that we have faced over the last few years, we have overcome all these challenges and have been successful in meeting our strategic goals.

“We are extremely confident that the agility, strength and innovative business model, along with a professionally run organization with freshly inducted talent from the media industry, will see our company delivering strong financial performance in the coming years.”

The company also saw an annual growth of 23.3 % in digital media and 66.5 % in traditional media in the financial year ended 31st March 2023 compared to the previous fiscal.

ShemarooMe, the OTT Platform released 14 new titles during the fourth quarter ended 31st March 2023 and the general entertainment channels (GECs) recorded a viewership share of 9 % in over all Hindi GEC genre.

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Amazon lays off at least 500 in India

The departments that saw pink slips were Amazon Web Services, HR and support functions

By exchange4media Staff | May 16, 2023 11:00 AM   |   1 min read


Amazon has handed out pink slips to at least 500 employees in India, media networks have reported.

The people who have been let go were with Amazon Web Services, HR and support functions.

CEO Andy Jassy had said in April that Amazon has begun laying off employees in its advertising unit.

As per the company, it was "prioritizing resources with an eye towards maximizing benefits to customers and the long-term health of our business".

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Media houses must comply with rules with regards to organised conclaves/summits: MIB

The MIB said it has come across as a violation at a recent media event   

By exchange4media Staff | May 10, 2023 1:47 PM   |   1 min read


Noting that e-cigarettes were promoted at a business summit of a prominent media house in New Delhi, the I&B ministry said in an advisory to media houses and satellite TV channels.

The ministry has directed newspapers, private satellite TV channels, publishers of news and current affairs content on digital media and publishers of online curated content (OTT platforms) to comply with existing legal provisions while organising conclaves or summits.

“It has been brought to the notice by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that in a recently organized Business Summit in New Delhi by a prominent media house, the forum was apparently used to promote electronic cigarettes.

“Such an action was in violation of Section 4 of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Act, 2019 which prohibits advertisements that directly or indirectly promote the use of electronic cigarettes.

“The Print, Electronic and Digital Media entities are accordingly advised to ensure that the aforementioned statute is not contravened either by way of advertisement or any promotion or other campaigns etc,” the MIB said in its advisory.

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'No medium is dead. There's opportunity for everyone'

A panel of the industry's sharpest minds convened to talk about the future of advertising at the recently held FICCI Frames 2023

By exchange4media Staff | May 5, 2023 1:40 PM   |   4 min read


An August panel at FICCI Frames 2023 deliberated on ‘What is the future of advertising?’ in a discussion featuring some of the prominent names from the Indian adland. Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India; Saurabh Saksena, CEO, VMLY&R India; Gangs T Gangadhar, Co-Founder & Group, CEO, Quotient Ventures; Rohit Gopakumar, COO, Optimal Media Solutions (Times Group); Dheeraj Sinha, CEO, Leo Burnett, South Asia & Chairman BBH India; Abe Thomas, CEO, Reliance Broadcast Network ( BIGFM). The session was moderated by Vinit Karnik, Business Head- Entertainment, Group M came together to discuss the relevancy of advertising in today’s digital era and in the future.

The talk kickstarted with a discussion of the changes that the industry saw in the last few years with the disruption of many mediums and marketing tactics along with user-generated content and influencer marketing being at its peak.

Barua of Havas said, “There are two ways to look at it. First, from our country and second, from what's happening outside India. From an Indian POV, there are dramatic changes that are happening. Cultural changes are happening in the form of mediums. Consumers are getting more powerful in terms of the entertainment or content they want to see, and norms have changed. The control is in the consumer’s hands today. Data and analytics have become very important.”

Karnik concluded Rana’s point by saying that the consumer has become the centre of all the mediums, consuming through multiple mediums like TV and digital and other traditional media. 

Saksena of VMLY&R said, “One thing that is constant is the need to be creative, platforms, mediums, and advertisers need to be creative, and this has stayed universal. Consumers have the power. Where we are today after Covid, I think Covid was the accelerator of trends - the adoption of OTT, e-commerce, etc. A lot has changed and remained constant and there is pressure on advertisers to value a consumer’s time.”

Speaking about how he sees the industry, Gangs said, “Well as long as there is a need to build brands, there will be a need for advertising. How will it look, will obviously change but the need is going to be there. Advertising should be interesting and inspiring. Earlier it used to be entertainment but it should be inspiring."

Gopakumar of Times Group spoke about print and its slow-paced growth saying, “If you see print in smaller towns is growing. Vernacular papers are coming out with their new editions. The opportunity is humongous. The audience is changing, earlier it was a need economy, and now it is a want economy. When I started it was a Rs 25,000 Crore advertising revenue. Today it is Rs 1000 crore. No medium has died. There is opportunity for everyone.”

When asked about what advice Leo Burnett gives to their clients, Sinha of Leo Burnett said, “I feel this is the best time to be in advertising and marketing. When I started, one could only play with words and images and now you can play with technology. And that’s what makes today’s world exciting. The value chain is now moving from just advertising to talking down to people and to actually solving human problems and business problems.”

The opportunity is to move up the value chain to solve problems. Because What’s lost is the entitlement that advertising had 20 years back which was playing a jingle and people watching it. Now people will choose to interact with content if it is interesting or not and, hence, the onus is on us to make the content more interesting and to solve for something that really matters in the people’s lives,” he added.

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National policy on AVGC is being finalised: Apurva Chandra

Speaking at the FICCI Frames 2023, the MIB Secretary also noted that the public broadcaster Prasar Bharati has been undergoing a transformation

By exchange4media Staff | May 4, 2023 8:33 AM   |   4 min read

apurva chandra

Apurva Chandra, Secretary, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), on Wednesday, said that the government was in the process of finalising the national policy on the Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming and Comic (AVGC) sector. 

Addressing the 23rd edition of FICCI FRAMES in Mumbai, Chandra said, “After the taskforce report was formulated, it was thrown open for the stakeholders’ feedback. We have received a number of comments which are getting incorporated. Now we are in the process of finalising the core for the national policy, which will go for inter-ministerial consultation and thereafter the final policy can be announced.”

Chandra disclosed that a consultation was held with the state governments on April 20th where almost 25 state governments were represented, and wherein a draft AVGC policy was put out for the state governments in public domain. He further added that in the conclave the state governments were told what was expected of them, and their queries were addressed. 

“Now I am sure that the industry will also take it forward, while we have put it out to the state governments to frame their own policy,” the Secretary added. He also mentioned that some of the state governments like Karnataka, Telangana, and Maharashtra were ahead, as they were already doing something in terms of the AVGC policy, and it is for the others to take it ahead.

Chandra, who has also chaired the AVGC task force, said, “AVGC sector requires a cross-section of work from various ministries and various state governments, and they all have to come together, especially to meet the challenges of education and skilling.” 

With regard to skilling and education, Chandra asserted that it is the core of making skilled manpower available. “We are in touch with the education department of the government of India, as well as NCERT and all the other stakeholders such as All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to incorporate Animation courses and Visual effect courses into school curriculums, starting from 6th grade onwards, and in the Computer Science and activities curriculum, as well as skilling later on and standardisation of the courses at Graduate level, postgraduate level and subsequently,” he added.

Chandra also touched upon the matter of having a National Centre of Excellence, which has been talked about for a long time and said that a centre might be operational in Mumbai by next year. “The National Centre of Excellence has been on the drawing board for almost 7-8 years now, but we hope now that this is the final year. There again we want to involve the private sector, and we are partnering with CII and FICCI so that it remains a private sector entity and not a government entity. So that it gives more flexibility in terms of operations, in terms of hiring of faculty and manpower, and designing the courses.” 

He further shared that the government also wants to create regional centres so that more people can be trained to meet the needs of the industry. The Secretary added that the government is in the works to set up a National Centre for Excellence operational in Mumbai by next year.

The AVGC sector in India is rapidly growing and has the potential to make India a global content leader. However, the country’s share of the AVGC global revenue today is less than 1%. With the announcement of the AVGC task force by the government, the industry has hopes that the number will improve in the coming years.

In a fireside chat with Praveen Someshwar, Co-Chair & FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee & MD & CEO, HT Media, the secy also that Prasar Bharati - the public broadcaster is undergoing a transformation, adding that over the past few years not a lot of new content has been created on Prasar Bharati.

He said, "Within this month many new serials are going to come on Prasar Bharati. It's undergoing a transformation. Infact, new films have started coming back on Prasar Bharati which were not there earlier. Regional films will also start and fresh content is also being created."
He also invited stakeholders to participate in the process of transforming Prasar Bharati. While in fact at the event, Prasar Bharati CEO Gaurav Dwivedi, said in four months time different content will be airing on Doordarshan.

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Equal representation of women behind the camera is important: Guneet Monga

In a discussion with P&G's Kainaz Gazder at #WeSeeEqual Summit, the Oscar-winning producer shared some facts about female representation in Indian media and advertising

By exchange4media Staff | May 3, 2023 5:05 PM   |   2 min read

guneet monga

There is a need to push more women behind commercials as directors, India’s First Oscar Winning Producer Guneet Monga said on Wednesday, noting that not even 5 per cent of directors in India are women.  

In a discussion with Kainaz Gazder, Senior VP, P&G Asia Middle East Africa, on the topic “Seeing is Believing: Power of Advertising and Media” at P&G’s #WeSeeEqual Summit, Monga stressed the need for women representation in media and advertising.

“I love storytelling and love the impact it can make. Equal representation of women behind the camera is important."

“Pushing more women behind the commercials is much needed. Our statistics are quite low, unfortunately. Less than 5 per cent of women are behind the cameras as directors. That just needs to change and as a producer myself, at Sikhya Entertainment, most of our stories are either led by women or are about women. It is very important to see how women are represented. It is a large part of our conversation,” she said.

During the discussion, Kainaz Gazder, Senior VP, of P&G Asia Middle East Africa, spoke about the role P&G plays in breaking gender stereotypes.

“We are P&G look at our responsibility of leveraging the voice of our brands towards equality and inclusion very seriously. We look at it like a three-fold approach. One, we make sure we have a diverse and accurate representation as we do our communication. Two, we want to leverage our voice to be a force for good. Third, we want equal representation of women behind the camera,” she said.

She said that in 2019, only 16 per cent of P&G’s production was driven by female directors and now it has grown to 35 per cent.

“We are aiming to get that to 50 per cent goal with a comprehensive set of actions to develop a pipeline of female talent in advertising media and content,” Gazder said.

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