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Battle rages over India's first Catholic TV channel

Two Kerala bishops face an appeal against a decision to reinstate them to Jeevan TV's board

Battle rages over India's first Catholic TV channel

Jeevan TV in Kerala was India's first Catholic TV news channel. (Photo: YouTube)

Published: June 19, 2020 08:07 AM GMT

Updated: June 19, 2020 08:08 AM GMT

A legal battle is continuing over the ownership of India’s first Catholic TV news channel after two bishops were removed from its decision-making body eight years ago.

The National Company Law Tribunal on May 18 reinstated archbishops Andrews Thazhath and Jacob Thoomkuzhy of the Archdiocese of Trichur in the southern state of Kerala to the board of directors of Jeevan Telecasting Corporation, a company incorporated in 1999.

As the bishops were preparing to convene the first board meeting after their victory, their opponents got a restraining order against them just two days before the scheduled meeting.

On June 5, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal accepted their opponents’ submission that letting them hold a board meeting would make their appeal “infructuous.”

The tribunal has set a hearing for July 14 and directed the bishops not to hold a board meeting until further order.

The National Company Law Tribunal in its May 18 order said that “… we believe that the respondents have indulged in oppression of minority shareholders and effected change in the control and management of respondent company, by their financial clout, muscle power and by adopting dubious methods to achieve their ends.”

The tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction to decide cases of mismanagement in legally incorporated companies in India.

It ordered the regional director of the federal Ministry of Corporate Affairs to conduct a probe into alleged illegal transfers of company shares and other issues within 60 days.

The tribunal also proposed the newly constituted board under the bishops appoint an independent auditor and assess the value of the respondents’ shares. The bishops have agreed to buy back their shareholdings in the company.

“We founded the channel with a view to fill the gap in the visual media world in Kerala where the people speak Malayalam, the official language of the state, and to focus on Christian values as other channels would do,” said Archbishop Thoomkuzhy, who was the founder and chairman of Jeevan (life) TV channel but is now retired.

“The Church felt the need for a church-backed television channel and wanted to involve the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Conference that consists of members of three rites — Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar, Syro-Mankara and Latin — but it did not materialize and the Archdiocese of Trichur went ahead with the project on its own.

“We started it by gathering donations from people within the state and from abroad for the noble cause.”

The channel’s management soon realized the need for more money and brought private businessmen onto the board of directors to run it as a commercially viable channel.

One of those new directors was Baby Mathew, who in late 2012 removed both bishops from the board of the channel’s holding company and inducted his men onto it.

Soon Catholics who had invested in the company moved Kerala High Court seeking to declare the managerial coup as void.

The top court in the state, however, refused to do so after deciding that the jurisdiction to decide the case lay with the National Company Law Tribunal.

Subsequently, both bishops moved the law tribunal and achieved victory after an eight-year fight.

Despite the restraining order, Archbishop Thoomkuzhy told UCA News on June 16 that “we are very happy” about the tribunal order.

“I feel justice has finally been done and our rights have been restored,” he said, expressing hope that they will also win the appeal.

Although it had taken eight years, the tribunal gave a proper order and “proved we were not wrong,” he added.

However, Mathew and his team consider the restraining order a major victory for them.

P.J. Antony, director and executive editor of the channel, told UCA News on June 16 that “the appellate authority has accepted our demand and restrained the bishops from convening the board meeting.”

“We have majority shares and support among the members of the board,” he added.

The logo of Jeevan TV was blessed by Pope John Paul II, now a saint, on Jan. 12, 2000.

Christians in Kerala account for 18 percent of the state’s 34 million population, with Muslims comprising 27 percent and Hindus 55 percent, according to the 2011 national census.


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