Is the media going overboard in its coverage of the Ambani feud?
The war of words between the billionaire Ambani brothers took an unexpected turn when younger sibling Anil offered an olive branch to elder brother Mukesh in a bid to resolve a feud over the split of the Reliance business empire in 2005.
The widespread coverage the Indian media has given to the squabble between the brothers has led to a debate on social networking sites such as Twitter, with some accusing news organisations of playing host to a reality show or soap opera that stars the Ambani family to boost ratings.
Prominent columnist Vir Sanghvi wrote through his Twitter account virsanghvi: “Do you think some network should plan a reality show on the Ambani battle? Or are they doing it already on the news?”
But the battle between the billionaire Ambani brothers is not a manufactured product for mass entertainment, as it involves two of the world’s wealthiest men and could pose a stumbling block to India’s goal of achieving energy security.
The siblings have been involved in several disputes since the family business was split in 2005 following the death of their father, Dhirubhai Ambani, a legendary Indian business tycoon who built Reliance from scratch.
The latest of these disputes is over a deal for Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries to sell gas to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Natural Resources at below-market rates as agreed in the 2005 family settlement, brokered by their mother Kokilaben.
The dispute has drawn in the government, which claims it is the rightful owner of the gas. The government can also decide who can buy gas and at what price, but it has been accused by Anil Ambani of supporting Reliance Industries.
India’s highest court has not excluded the government from the dispute between the Ambanis’ firms, and will hear the case on Oct. 20.
India, Asia’s third-largest oil consumer and which imports two-thirds of its crude oil, is hoping to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and become a new frontier for oil and gas exploration.
The Indian exploration and production sector will need $40 billion in investments by 2012, the Investment Commission of India estimates, while consultancy KPMG expects the Indian energy sector will require between $120 and $150 billion over 2007 to 2011 as Asia’s third-largest economy expands.
However, India’s latest auction of oil and gas exploration blocks evoked a tepid response, with the government indicating the Ambani dispute may have put off investors.
Now, with the stakes being so high, surely the media cannot be blamed for helping its audience navigate through the twists and turns of the maze that is the Ambani tussle?