India’s premier news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) is now in a mess as several forces ranging from powerful politicians to corporates are trying to get “their own” new Editor. PTI is controlled by a consortium of major media houses. For the past few decades PTI’s Chief Editor and CEO M K Razdan was calling the shots, though there is a hardly convened Board, consisting of owners of major newspapers. Razdan was a go between the government, powerful politicians and the Board and he was continuing in this post with a fat salary and perks of around Ra. 25 lakhs ($37,000) per month.
How old is Razdan is a mystery in media world and the many extensions that he got, as Congress Government (some allege Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary Ahmed Patel) backed him to the hilt. It is a known thing in the media world, that every year, when the Board convenes, the media owners will get calls from the I&B Minister or the Uber Secretary of the Grand Old Party to pass the agenda to grant “one more” extension of service. Some say Razdan is 73, some say only 71, some say he crossed 75. A running joke in journalism circles is that when asked his age, his daughter Nidhi Razdan (NDTV anchor) would just smile.
Even the Left wing controlled employer unions were silent on Razdan’s un-ending continuance in PTI, revoking all service norms, where normally people have to retire at the age of 60. All CPI(M) General Secretaries were friendly with Razdan and the unions were not heard. Every politician cutting across party lines is in good terms with Razdan as he entertains all.
Anyway this time Board took a “revolutionary” decision to “plead” Razdan to leave. His glamorous post of CEO and Editor was bifurcated. New CEO V Venkatesh was appointed and Razdan’s tenure as Editor was to end by March 31. But there was a clause; Razdan will continue as Editor till the new person is selected.
Meanwhile, some in the know say that Razdan had a tussle with the former I&B Minister Arun Jaitley a few months back. Jaitley wanted to put either Ashok Malik or Shishir Gupta as PTI’s Editor. Ashok Malik is now a senior research fellow in Observer Research Foundation and Shishir Gupta is the Executive Editor of Hindustan Times. Anyway it is believed that Razdan did not like this proposal and he used his might in the Board to scuttle Jaitley’s plan of succession at the news agency, painting Jaitley’s attempt as “saffronisation” of PTI.
There was no saffronisation. Jaitley perhaps was doing what every previous I & B minister did. After foiling Jaitley’s plans, it is widely believed that Razdan convinced the Board to hire a recruiting agency Accord India to select a new Editor. Journalists allege that Accord India started the selection procedure in an unprofessional way. They did a mechanical work of short listing and interviewing existing staffers of PTI and erased out many without any reasons and came out with a list of seven persons for the top job. Accord India worked on what Razdan wanted, allege the journalists. The interview was like a typical mass manpower recruiting and no media professionals were on board, allege some who attended these “sham” exercises.
The seven persons finalised by Accord India are: Barun Jha, Priyanka Tikoo, Sumir Kaul, Amitabha Roy Chowdhury, Samir Mishra, Sudhakar Nair and current Executive Editor V S Chandrasekhar. Though the current Executive Editor V S Chandrasekhar is the most eligible, Razdan lobby says that as Chandrasekhar is now 61 years old, he should not be entertained and opportunity should be given to a “young blood” such as Priyanka Tikoo. Funny how this argument was never used when M K Razdan was getting his extensions!
The employees unions and Left leaders are lobbying for their favourite Amitabha Roy Chowdhury. Some journalists allege that Razdan wanted Sumir Kaul to be elevated as Executive Editor. Meanwhile, the buzz is that several politicians are also working hard to bring some other journalists to head the PTI, by asking the Board, consisting of media owners to toe their line. Several powerful Corporate Houses are also eagerly watching the games and their main interest is to know who will head the Business Bureau of PTI. Anyway in the coming days several interesting things will be unfolding on who will head India’s premier news agency PTI, which everyone wants to control.
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