Aveek Sarkar upbeat over 74% stake in Star

NEW DELHI: For the suave bhadralok from Kolkata, the always immaculately dhoti and kurta clad Aveek Sarkar, it's a "big achievement" to have managed to pick up 74 per cent holding in Star News' controlling company in India, Media Content Communications Services India Pvt Ltd (MCCS).

"It's a great day for an Indian media company and it's also in line with the plans of our own company," Sarkar told this evening in an informal chat while waiting to make a "courtesy call" on India's information and broadcasting (I&B) minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and some ministry officials here in Delhi.

When this reporter introduced himself to Sarkar saying that the media industry is well-acquainted with, that included Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea, who was standing beside the Indian media baron, Sarkar shot back jokingly, "I hope you have not been giving him a (Mukerjea) tough time?"

ABP lawyers, a representative from Ambit Finance, which structured the deal for ABP, and Star India's business development head Kaushal Dalal were amongst others who accompanied Sarkar and Mukerjea on the rounds of various government offices in the Capital.

Though Sarkar politely turned down a request for a full-fledged interview, he did answer some quick questions on Star News and the probability of News Corp/Star doing a return investment in ABP's bid to start editions of The Telegraph from Delhi and/or Mumbai, which is considered the stronghold of The Times of India.

According to Sarkar, the involvement with the Star News venture is "different" from what his company had dabbled in during the last decade in the form of a TV production house, Bazaar TV, which had to be closed down as it was not making much headway.

"That venture and experience (Bazaar TV) was different and this (Star News) is different," Sarkar candidly said, adding, "Star News is a more serious business (venture)."

He also said that the full composition of the board of MCCS has not yet been decided as the nitty-gritties would take some more time to be ironed out.

Asked whether Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, either directly or indirectly through some Star entities, would invest in ABP's core business area of print publishing, Sarkar looked heavenward saying, "Not that I know of."

He, however, did not confirm or deny when asked of ABP's plans to launch a Delhi and Mumbai edition in the near future. Still, media circles are well aware of the fact that Sarkar always has had dreams of bringing The Telegraph to Delhi to give it a true national character.

Sarkar also did not disclose the source of funding - internal accrual or term-loans or any other financial instrument - which has enabled ABP to cough up a sizeable amount of money for a 74 per cent share in the MCCS pie.

Sarkar may have been tight-lipped in front of the media, but during his interaction with various government officials, he is learnt to have said that MCCS and its shareholders would be watch with interest to see whether the government's handling of other cases relating to news channels and FDI (notably CNBC TV 18, Zee News and NDTV) is "even handed."

Meanwhile, a senior I&B ministry official admitted that the government would look into all cases of FDI or foreign investment relating to news channel as minutely as it has been done in the case of Star News and MCCS.

The I&B ministry is yet to give a go-ahead to a proposal by NDTV to infuse investment from a finance arm of Stanchart bank. Unless the ministry gives the green signal, the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) would find it difficult to give the final nod to the proposal.

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