NEW DELHI: The Essel Group, promoted by Zee Telefilms chairman Subhash Chandra, is likely to join the board of news agency United News of India (UNI) as a major shareholder.
The group has negotiated a deal through Mediawest, an investment vehicle, following which it will hold around 60 per cent of UNI, but group officials refused to comment on the figure. UNI general manager MK Laul could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.
The Essel and Dainik Bhaskar groups jointly own Daily News & Analysis (DNA).
According to an Essel Group spokesperson, the deal with UNI is expected to add value to DNA.
Access to a functional newswire like UNI is being seen as an asset for the group.
But Chandra himself declined to say much beyond confirming his interest in UNI. The "acquisition" will not be of the conventional type, since UNI is run by a trust comprising publication houses. It is a non-profit institution that ploughs back all its surpluses.
So what's Chandra's interest in it? "You don't always do things for money," he said. According to him, with UNI trailing the Press Trust of India, "we would like to help UNI regain its lost position". He said he would like to give UNI a global profile.
Asked whether the UNI investment would bring synergies with the Essel Group's other media interests in television and print, Chandra said, "I am not looking at synergy. I want to exploit our group's relationships in the international arena and tie up with media companies across the globe."
And which global agency would he like to emulate? "I don't emulate anybody, I like to create my own unique organisation," he said.
The Essel Group is expected to conduct due diligence of UNI "to bring it to an international level", a company executive said. There has been no decision yet on issues such as UNI's assets and liabilities. In the recent past, there has been talk of renovating the UNI building in New Delhi. But a resource crunch has been the hurdle.
Besides Essel, other media houses are shareholders on the UNI board. These include The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, and Ananda Bazar Patrika.
The news agency was launched in 1961. It serves more than 1,000 subscribers in more than 100 locations in India and abroad, a source said. The subscribers include newspapers, radio and television networks, Web sites, government offices, and private- and public-sector corporations.
UNI has bureaux in all major cities and towns of India. It has over 300 journalists across the country. It also has several correspondents across the world. UNI's wire service is available in English, Hindi, and Urdu.