Researched by: Rachel John, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
Sony-Zee ki shaadi toot gayi
The context: Sony and Zee announced their merger back in 2021. Sony would own a 50.86% stake while Zee Entertainment’s promoters—Subash Chandra’s family—held on to 3.99% and its public shareholders would hold the remaining 45.15%. This merger was expected to create a $10 billion entertainment behemoth—the largest in India. The Chandras negotiated a long and treacherous path to sealing the deal—including a challenge from Zee’s biggest investor Invesco—and allegations of embezzlement.
What happened now: Sony called off the multi-billion dollar merger—claiming that Zee failed to meet the terms of the original agreement. And it has asked for a whopping $90 million as termination fees. Adding to Zee’s woes, the deal has been scuppered after paying Rs 3.66 billion (366.59 crore) in fees to ensure regulatory compliance.
The reason: Sony wanted to edge out Goenka in favour of its man—but Zee was not willing to play along:
The two parties agreed that Zee’s chief executive Punit Goenka would lead the combined entity; however, in April 2023, the market regulator barred Goenka from taking top management roles over a case of fund diversion. Though the ban was overturned, Sony insisted that Goenka step aside in favour of its nominee, stalling the talks.
The bigger picture: This may spell serious trouble for Zee—which is back to looking for a new partner to infuse funds into the company:
Zee promoters have been fighting court cases one after the other for over two years. First, their largest shareholder, Invesco, wanted to oust the family, when they found a white knight in Sony. Now, Sony is also out. Unless the Goenkas get someone to infuse funds, they are staring at a similar situation, where many minority shareholders will gang up against the family.
Meanwhile, Sony has to deal with its shrinking share of the Hindi entertainment pie: “With more urban viewers cutting cord and moving towards connected TVs, experts feel Sony might lose its relevance among TV viewing audiences faster than anticipated.” Mint has more on the impact. We’ve also previously flagged Financial Times’ excellent piece (splainer gift link) on what this means for foreign investors in the Indian entertainment industry. (Bloomberg News)
In other business news: ExxonMobil is suing two of its activist investors—who want the company to set targets for the greenhouse gas emissions of its customers. Exxon has already promised to cut its own emissions to zero by 2050—and is outraged that it’s expected to be responsible for those who buy its products. OTOH, it is the only company among seven major oil companies in the West not to do so: “Exxon says the investors are ‘driven by an extreme agenda’ and that their repeated proposals do not serve investors' interests or promote long-term shareholder value.” Reuters has more.
Israel-Palestine: The latest update
The death toll: has surpassed 25,000 with 25,102 killed in Gaza so far and about 70% of them are women and children.
Growing anger over hostages: Family members of Israelis held hostage in the Gaza Strip stormed a parliamentary meeting at the Knesset—chanting: “Release them now, now, now!” Netanyahu recently rejected any deal with Hamas—saying he will not accept their “terms of surrender.” Adding to the families outrage—a recent admission from the Israel Defense Forces that three hostages, whose bodies were recovered in Gaza, may have been killed by an airstrike. At least 27 hostages are dead. (The Guardian)
Childbirth nightmare in Gaza: The war in Gaza has put about 52,000 pregnant women at risk—with disease and famine spreading in the enclave. These women have high levels of anaemia—increasing the risk of postpartum haemorrhage. Approximately 40% of pregnancies in the region are high-risk—with nonexistent prenatal care or birth facilities. Washington Post has lots more.
Workers recruitment drive: Israel hosted a workers’ recruitment drive in Haryana to hire plastering, ceramic tile, iron bending and framework workers. The drive was advertised on the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) website. The pay: Rs 1.67 million (16.7 lakh) a year. The workers say the money is worth the risk of going to a battlezone. (Hindustan Times)
The US demands Israeli probe: Washington is demanding an immediate investigation into the killing of a 17-year-old in the occupied West Bank. According to residents, he was shot without provocation by Israeli soldiers—while holding a barbecue in a field. The IDF describes it as a “firearm discharge, ostensibly involving an off-duty law enforcement officer, a soldier and a civilian.” Al Jazeera has more on the deteriorating situation in the West Bank.
Speak no evil: A shocking sentencing in Thailand
It is a criminal offence to criticise or insult the king, queen and heir apparent in Thailand. But most are shocked at a court ruling that sentenced a man to 50 years in prison for insulting the monarchy on Facebook. This is the harshest punishment to date under the law. Thirty-year-old Mongkol Thirakhot’s crime:
[T]he social media posts shared episodes eight and 12 from Season 1 of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” in which the host mocked the Thai king, his wife, and their poodle. The other offending post included a clip from the Fox animated series “American Dad” that showed the characters stealing “the king’s diamond-encrusted inhalator.” Mr. Mongkhon was also convicted for posting “The Soul of a Nation,” a BBC documentary about the Thai royal family.
Point to note: Anyone can file a case under these laws on behalf of the king. Also read: Our Big Story has lots more on the recent Thai elections—which involved the role of the monarchy. (New York Times, paywall, CNN)
Cameroon’s landmark anti-malaria campaign
The context: In 2021, the WHO made medical history by approving the first-ever malaria vaccine. The vaccine—which was 40 years in the making—is called RTS,S aka Mosquirix—and it attacks the most lethal form of malarial parasite called Plasmodium falciparum. The results showed that it is safe, cheap and can prevent almost 40% of malaria cases, and reduce severe illness in 30% of the cases. We have lots more on the malaria vaccine in this Big Story.
What happened now: Cameroon has launched the world's first routine vaccine programme—offering it free of charge to infants up to six months old. The country records around six million malaria cases and 4,000 deaths every year—80% of whom are children under the age of five. Nineteen other countries will roll out the vaccines soon. (Reuters)
A temporary non-veg ban on Zomato
The company suspended deliveries of non-vegetarian dishes in North India yesterday. It said it “disabled delivery” in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan—due to a government notice. While Zomato did not mention the Ram mandir, it is linked to the inauguration. FYI: meat shops were closed across Uttar Pradesh—and restaurants stopped serving meat. (India Today)
Female animals have bigger brains
A new study has found that female mammals—such as deer, caribou, moose, goats, sheep and antelopes—have evolved to develop bigger brains. One likely reason: A 2016 study established that female deer with larger brains live longer and have more offspring. But males have instead developed larger antlers—and their brains have remained the same size.
But, but, but: The study clarifies: “It’s not that as males invest more on their weapons, they get dumber.” As to why we have this difference—scientists have a working hypothesis:
What we think is happening is that males invest more in their weapons, which makes them more important signals for the females, and maybe social systems become more complex at that point, too. And perhaps females need larger brains in order to figure out who they should mate with and how to navigate their social system.
National Geographic (paywall) has more on the study.
Playlists for all moods
After ruling the roost with ‘Spotify Wrapped’, the audio platform has captured the Gen Z market with its ‘Daylist feature’—a playlist that “adapts to your moods throughout the day”—with quirky themes such as ‘romantic c-sharp minor Tuesday morning’, ‘delulu masterpiece Thursday afternoon’ or ‘overthinking softie afternoon’. This feature has gone viral on Instagram—with searches for daylist jumping by 20,000%. Sadly, it is still not available in India. But our Spotify playlists—like ‘Dancin’ in your underwear’ and ‘Get your karaoke groove on’—are no less fun:) (NBC News)
A ‘poetic’ AI bot goes rogue
A UK parcel delivery firm had to disable its AI chatbot—because a user managed to get it to compose poetry. The poems were all about how terrible it was at custom service. Example:
There was once a chatbot named DPD
Who was useless at providing help
DPD was a waste of time, And a customer's worst nightmare…
Yes, it was terrible at poetry, as well. (Reuters)
Two things to see
One: Ninety five people have died within the span of a week due to severe winter storms in the US. Freezing air from the Arctic resulted in temperatures as low as -40°C in Wisconsin and Nebraska. And the weather is going to stay awful for the next couple of days. Watch a glimpse of the storm in Nebraska. (BBC News)
Two: Say hello to Yangwang U8—the Chinese answer to Western luxury cars. Wall Street Journal describes it as “a $150,000 supercar that resembles a Lamborghini and an SUV that it says can rotate 360 degrees on the spot and float in water.” Also: “the U8 can run steadily on just three wheels if a tire bursts, thanks to its four powerful in-wheel motors.” Take that James Bond! WSJ (splainer gift link) has loads more on how BYD is kicking Tesla’s ass—emerging the world’s largest EV carmaker.