Facing heat after rape ban, Uber warmed to Times of India and secured its investment

On December 31, 2014, three weeks after Uber banned in Delhi after passenger raped by an Uber driver, The Economic Times Editor emailed Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick: “With the Delhi government revising its rules to allow Uber to resume operations, January might be the good time for you to jump-start your travel plan… I urge you to come to New Delhi on January 16-17 for the Economic Times World Business Summit…your insights will help set the agenda for the policy formulation in India and other countries.It will also allow you to get acquainted with policy makers in India.

On the same day as this email from The Economic Times (it is published by The Times of India Group), Kalanick writes to his associates: “Let us be sensitive to maintaining a strong relationship with ToI… if there is something what we can do for them makes sense, we should do it.

On January 1, 2015, the day after his email, Allen Penn, then Uber’s Asia manager, wrote to his top colleagues suggesting that Kalanick delay his trip, “let the air clear up more on the rape, leaving room for a higher hit rate on the government”. and business meetings” – Kalanick eventually postponed his trip to India.

Within three months of this email, part of The Uber Files investigated by The Indian Express, it was announced that Times Internet, the digital arm of the Times of India Group, was making a “strategic investment” in Uber.

A report in The Economic Times on March 23, 2015 said the deal was “about Rs 150 crore” and would allow Uber “to leverage the reach of assets held by the Times Group, across the press print, television and 150 million monthly active digital users.”

On the same day, Uber also announced that the company and Times Internet had “entered into a strategic partnership to support Uber’s expansion in India.”

Incidentally, Uber’s ban was only lifted on July 8, 2015, when the Delhi High Court overturned the Delhi government’s order denying Uber’s application for a license to operate on the roads. of the capital.

The December 2014 emails and the March 2015 report in ET are part of The Uber Files.

India wasn’t the only place where Uber was looking to partner with a media company.

The Washington Post, a partner in this investigation, reports that Uber “pushed the usual safeguards of journalistic ethics by inviting media owners to invest in Uber, hoping to enlist them to build high-level relationships. level and spread a positive message”.

An email from Rachel Whetstone – she was senior vice president of communications and public policy at Uber from June 2015 to April 2017 – said: “Having (Bild Axel’s parent company) Springer on our side is very valuable. if we want to progress in Germany. … I think they will do things proactively to help.

“Other media investors who have taken stakes in Uber include Lord Rothermere, owner of Britain’s Daily Mail, Ashley Tabor-King, founder of Europe’s largest commercial radio group, and Carlo de Benedetti, publisher from Italian weekly L’Espresso ― who Uber executives asked to help establish a connection for Kalanick with then Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in 2015, according to emails. (De Benedetti admitted to having hosted several company executives for dinner at his home in Rome that year, but said that “I never lobbied them or anyone from other”),” the Post’s report read.

Responding to questions from The Indian Express and The Guardian about the Times Internet-Uber deal, Sivakumar Sundaram, Chairman of the Times of India Group Executive Committee, said in an email: “Initially, we reject all your reasoned contacts and colorful. questions, implying that Times Internet Limited’s alleged investment in Uber had an impact on articles published in Times Group publications.

“We, Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited (“BCCL”, together with its subsidiaries also known as “The Times Group”), are one of the largest media services conglomerates in India, enjoying the wholehearted patronage millions of discerning readers and viewers worldwide.We have a heritage of over 180 years and our publications “The Times of India”, “Navbharat Times” and “The Economic Times” are well known to readers in India and abroad as pillars of integrity and ethics. The Times of India is the world’s best-selling English-language daily newspaper. We ensure that correct information reaches the readers of our publications and the general public in an unbiased manner “, did he declare.

“We vehemently oppose your attempt to slander us, as an independent media outlet that is unaffiliated with any political party/agenda and has been a pillar of integrity in our rich and diverse society for nearly two centuries… Without going into specific allegations regarding Times Internet Limited (hereinafter referred to as TIL), and without prejudice to our rights and claims, we declare that TIL is an independent company with separate management. All investments made by the companies of the group would be within the scope of their activities and in accordance with Indian laws as well as the code of conduct applicable to all companies of the Times group,” he said.

“In specific regard to BCCL, we can confirm that over the years we have enjoyed a cordial advertising relationship with Uber in India. However, we categorically deny any involvement in Uber’s internal affairs or policies, such as those you mentioned in your email. Further, we categorically refuse to facilitate or provide Uber with any form of policy access or promote changes in laws/regulations. These are internal matters of said company, and you can contact them directly in this regard,” Sundaram said.

“We can safely assure you that the alleged ‘partnership’ to which you referred has nothing to do with an alleged cartel and may merely be an exercise in investment and cooperation in which an advertising medium and marketing is provided as desired by the customer in the normal course of business…” he said.

“At The Times Group, there is no interaction to influence between the commercial teams and the editorial teams. By law and in accordance with Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. internal codes of conduct. and other group companies, publishers control the selection of topics published as news, while business teams, including ad sales teams and barter teams, have no control over matters editorials. There is a Chinese wall separating advertising sales/investment from news, like any reputable media outlet, with strict policies and proper corporate governance in place for news and editorial independence. The process of separating the operation of different departments and businesses has been developed, implemented, improved and enforced by The Times Group over decades. This process promotes good governance, prevents conflicts of interest, ensures impartiality and thwarts insider trading. Uber or its officials visiting and being part of any business summit have no connection with the journalism of The Times Group…” Sundaram said.
Uber files also reveal that Uber prepared lists of politicians, bureaucrats and opinion leaders it called “stakeholders”, numbering more than 1,850 in 39 countries, including India, in the hope of influencing the people at the center of policy-making.

On December 17, 2013, Nikos Stathopoulos, Account Manager of the Brussels-based public policy consultancy firm FIPRA, sent an email to an employee of the law firm with copies to two FIPRA employees and a group of employees from Uber stating that Uber was looking for a “list of 4-5 stakeholders in each city, from which they will likely choose 3 to meet with…desired stakeholders are typically not regulators (e.g. police, regulators, etc.) traffic, etc.) but rather “friendly” people who can help protect/promote Uber and educate Uber in the taxi/rental market.

“These people can be young, progressive, tech-savvy politicians, or experienced trained civil servants who have no vested interests in the taxi industry, or prominent figures with deep knowledge of the industry,” Stathopoulos wrote. .

Stressing that Uber was “largely seeking safe meetings”, the email also contained a list of “stakeholders” that it was “being finalized for India” where the taxi service had started operations from Bengaluru in August this year.

Reached for comment, an Uber spokesperson, responding to questions about the company’s media relations, said, “Like many startups, Uber has been looking for strategic investors who could help us understand certain markets and to grow our business…There was never an expectation of positive editorial coverage from the investment.In fact, it’s fair to say that we received a lot of critical coverage from various media from the media group.”
On ‘stakeholders’, the spokesperson said: “We meet with these stakeholders to educate them on our business model, seek to understand how we can better meet the needs of local communities and advocate for progressive regulation that supports drivers, users and cities.”

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