NDTV & TAM war gets ugly; WPP responds

Raj Baddhan

Senior Editor


The war of words continues between WPP and NDTV. When NDTV, in a press statement, nailed the statements made by Sir Martin Sorrell on the law suit by pointing out six errors on Saturday, August 25, 2012, WPP lost no time in putting out a statement terming NDTV�۪s statement as inaccurate and misleading information and replied point wise.

NDTV�۪s first point: Sir Martin has alleged that NDTV�۪s lawyers reached out to his lawyers to ask for a settlement. This is completely untrue. There was no such approach after the complaint was filed and communicated. In fact, it was his own CEO, Eric Salama, the CEO of Kantar, a WPP company, who sent a confidential mail to NDTV on August 8, suggesting a meeting if NDTV would ���halt litigation�۝. A further mail exchange followed. NDTV has respected Salama�۪s confidentiality by not making this public till now ��� but Sir Martin would do well to check with his own senior executives before making baseless charges.

WPP�۪s reply: The possibility of settlement meetings was raised by NDTV and no such meeting has been agreed, given NDTV�۪s conduct.

Vikram Chandra wrote to Eric Salama on July 27, 2012 to say: ���As you may know, our lawyers wrote to your representatives on June 4, 2012 proposing we meet in relation to disputes personally known to you since at least January 2012. ��_.Accordingly, our lawyers have now filed a complaint, attached hereto. If we are compelled to litigate, each of our companies will spend tens of millions of dollars in legal fees. Before we proceed with costly litigation, I write to ask if you would like to meet so we can attempt in good faith to resolve our differences. We can meet in India, London or the US, along with our lawyers. On 21 August his lawyers they said they had ���put service on hold since Eric had told Vikram that there might be a meeting to try to resolve the case.�۝

In fact Mr. Salama�۪s reply was:

���I am not copying anyone else on this note and it goes without saying that we will contest any papers which are served on us as we think that the allegations are without merit and we do not accept the damage which you allege. As we discussed in Delhi when we met, we have examined the evidence, investigated further and have proceeded to address the issue in the way we discussed. If you are prepared to call a halt to the proceedings, a meeting may be possible. If not, then at the moment I cannot see how a meeting will assist us. Let me know if you want to approach this issue pragmatically and draw a line under the litigation now, rather than spending money on lawyers to fight a long and costly forum dispute.�۝

NDTV�۪s second point: The biggest accusation against Sir Martin�۪s TAM rating system in India has come from Nielsen�۪s own global head of security, Robert Messemer, not just from Indian broadcasters and NDTV. Messemer, formerly of the FBI, in a meeting in Delhi on April 11, 2912, in front of two dozen people (including the CEO of Kantar), called Sir Martin�۪s TAM India operations the most corrupt in the world ��� and he has been to many, many countries to fight fires for Nielsen. Sir Martin needs to check his facts with Messemer or would he perhaps threaten to sue him for defamation?

WPP�۪s reply: This will be dealt with, presumably by Nielsen, in the proceedings. We are not going to engage in a trial by media, as we have repeatedly said. We are more than happy for this to be dealt with in the proper courts ��� in India ��� at which the evidence can be heard properly.

NDTV�۪s third point: Sir Martin seems to have finally discovered that this is not a ���hypothetical�۝ lawsuit. It is available on the website of the Supreme Court of New York for his team to read if Sir Martin is busy. Strangely, Sir Martin contradicts himself by now applying to the New York court for dismissal of the real lawsuit, using a plea based on technicalities of jurisdiction. Sir Martin and his lawyers (presumably) are not refuting any facts; they are merely using legalistic technical grounds to challenge NDTV. Our request is for Sir Martin and his team to argue the substantive factual merits of the case, and demonstrate a desire to stop the bribery and corruption.

As an aside, Sir Martin must know that his sudden outbursts have done even more to prove that jurisdiction is indeed in the US and not in India, as he has openly acknowledged how deeply involved he and thus Nielsen (his partner) are in Indian TAM viewership ratings operations.

WPP�۪s reply: It is hypothetical in that it may have been issued but there has no meaningful attempt to serve the lawsuit. Our view remains that this is an inappropriate ���lawsuit�۝ to issue. Its purpose is to provoke a settlement, not a real airing of the facts, as can be seen above.

Our dismissal application, as NDTV and their lawyers know, is based not solely on jurisdiction but on a lack of a proper claim. To the extent there is a claim we will be delighted to have it dealt with by the proper court.

We don�۪t understand the aside, in any respect. We do not see how Sir Martin�۪s statements on this case, which were not, for clarity, made from within the United States, confer any jurisdiction on the New York courts.

NDTV�۪s fourth point: No amount of maliciously false and defamatory statements will work against our lawyers. Sir Martin�۪s 10-billion-pound global operations ��� for which we normally have great admiration ��� may indeed be able to hire the biggest and most famous legal names, but he should know that the truth wins in the end ��� not lawyers. We leave it to our lawyers to respond to the allegations made against them.

We may not have a 10-billion-pound empire backing us, but WPP should realise that a court case is fought on the merits. We urge them to read the 194-page lawsuit, which contains indisputable facts, and respond to it on factual merits, not with personal attacks.

WPP�۪s reply: We do not understand how any comment about NDTV�۪s lawyers is defamatory or malicious. We will be happy to deal with this in due course.

NDTV�۪s fifth point: Sir Martin keeps referring to NDTV�۪s low market cap (vs. his $10 billion). Size matters? We would like to point out that it is indeed near impossible for an honest Indian media company to function in the dishonest environment his company has helped create in India. If Sir Martin had a similar corrupt system in the UK or the US, he wouldn�۪t be where he is at the moment. Yes, if NDTV�۪s true ratings were reflected as 62 per cent rather than TAM�۪s corrupted 25 per cent, the impact on NDTV�۪s revenues and market cap would be hugely significant. Sir Martin, or rather his team, knows that too. The details can be found in our (non-hypothetical) lawsuit.

WPP�۪s reply: We do not think it is right, or fair, for NDTV to blame its poor financial performance on TAM data. Again, we will be happy to deal with this, at the appropriate time, in the correct forum.

NDTV�۪s sixth point: Sir Martin said, ���We will do everything to improve the system but not with a gun to our head.�۝ In fact, Sir Martin Sorrell was personally informed about all the problems with TAM ratings at a meeting at The Oberoi Hotel in Gurgaon in August 2011, in the presence of a large number of media journalists and eminent people. That was a year ago, and there was no ���gun to the head�۝. Why was nothing done?

WPP�۪s reply: As NDTV knows, very well, there has been a continuous process of improvements and investments by TAM, in the TAM process. It is not at all true to say ���nothing was done�۝.

��We take India extremely seriously�۪
In another statement issued on Sunday, August 26, WPP, again in an attempt to counter NDTV�۪s charge the previous day, said it takes India extremely seriously and our businesses in the country are a testimony to that seriousness.

���India is one of WPP�۪s most important, and fastest growing markets, with revenues of approximately $500 million, including associates, and employing around 12,000 people. WPP has four of the top 12 creative agencies and four of the top 15 media agencies, according to India�۪s Economic Times newspaper. Some WPP agencies have been operating in India for more than 80 years,�۝ the statement said.

It further said: ���WPP has invested in India, helped to build innumerable Indian brands and organisations, and will continue to do so. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell has been a champion of India at various international platforms such as the World Economic Forum for many years. His regular visits to India and interactions with senior decision-makers in industry and government are also a testament to WPP�۪s ongoing commitment to the country.�۝