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India’s Adani defends media bid after press freedom fears

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Adani, 60, is the world's third-richest person./AFP
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Nov 25, 2022 - 01:08 PM

MUMBAI, INDIA — Indian tycoon Gautam Adani said Friday that media should have the “courage” to support the government when warranted, after his hostile takeover bid for one of the country’s top broadcasters sparked press freedom fears.

Adani, 60, is the world’s third-richest person, with an estimated net worth of $134 billion and interests ranging from Australian coal mines to India’s busiest ports.

He is also seen as a close acolyte of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, often publicly supporting his policies.

A company from his Adani Group revealed in August that it had indirectly bought 29 percent of NDTV, against the wishes of the broadcaster’s management, and is moving to buy a majority stake next month.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times, Adani said his foray into media was a “responsibility” rather than a business opportunity.

He added that it was time for India to have a global news conglomerate on par with Al Jazeera and said the channel should support the government when appropriate.

“Independence means if government has done something wrong, you say it’s wrong,” Adani told the British broadsheet.

“But at the same time, you should have courage when the government is doing the right thing every day. You have to also say that.”

NDTV’s two channels, one in Hindi and one in English, stand out among India’s myriad rolling news broadcasters for inviting on critics of the government as well as their hard-hitting reporting.

It has already been hit by a slew of legal cases that its owners said were a result of its reporting.

Under Modi, India has slipped 10 places in the Reporters Without Borders global press freedom ranking and is now 150 out of 180 surveyed countries.

Critical reporters often find themselves behind bars and hounded on social media by supporters of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Aggressive expansion 

Self-made billionaire Adani, 60, this year overtook fellow Indian Mukesh Ambani to become Asia’s richest man.

Like Modi, Adani hails from western Gujarat state, and his conglomerate has expanded aggressively in recent years, including into new areas like airports and renewable energy.

But its growth into capital-intensive businesses has raised alarm, with analysts from Fitch Group’s CreditSights warning in August that the group was “deeply overleveraged”.

On Friday, the group’s Adani Enterprises approved plans to raise $2.45 billion through a follow-on public offer — set to be India’s biggest ever, subject to regulatory approval.

The fresh funds will be key to reducing debt and fuelling further business expansion for the flagship entity, shares in which have surged nearly 1,000 percent over the past two years.

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