New Delhi: There is turmoil in the six-month-old English news channel Tiranga TV, promoted by Congressman Kapil Sibal and his wife, with employees alleging that they are being unceremoniously sacked in large groups even as the management insists that it is part of a restructuring and that there are no plans to shut the channel down.
The discontent had been brewing for weeks with the fired employees holding protests at Sibal’s residence in New Delhi on 3 July, and in the office Monday. Amid murmurs in the last few weeks that Tiranga TV may shut shop, a series of tweets by senior journalist Barkha Dutt Monday brought the matter out in the open.
ThePrint reached out to Kapil Sibal through calls and an email and is awaiting his response. This report will be updated as and when he responds.
Barkha Dutt alleged that over 200 employees had been sacked, blaming Sibal and his wife for the situation, adding that when the staff had joined the channel, they were assured of a “professionally run newsroom and a minimum tenure of two years”.
She also accused Sibal’s wife, Promila Sibal, of making disparaging remarks against journalists.
An appalling situation in @NewsHtn promoted by @KapilSibal & his wife, where more than 200 employees have had equipment confiscated and face sackings without even a 6 month pay out. Man who acts holier than though in public has treated journalists in a hideous way
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) July 15, 2019
By evening, she tweeted that bouncers had been sent to the Tiranga TV office where employees are protesting, demanding a three-month payout.
Bouncers at @NewsHtn office sent in by @KapilSibal and wife tweet protesting colleagues who are on an all night sit in dharna demanding a six month pay out. Need I say more. This needs the urgent intervention of @IndEditorsGuild @PrakashJavdekar https://t.co/I7cvNKP8in
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) July 15, 2019
Talking to ThePrint, Dutt said she brought the matter into the public domain to ensure that public pressure will bring a certain answerability from the top management and secure the rights of the employees.
“It was not possible to fight it only legally as the management has all the tricks and resources in place,” she said. “I have also been threatened with defamation. The employees are also intimidated.”
Dutt also said Kapil Sibal and his wife even refused to honour her contract after she sent them emails over the last month raising the issue of non-payment of a proper exit package to employees, and the way they were being treated. According to Dutt, her contract terms require the Sibals to pay her a full year’s salary even if they shut down the channel or terminate the contract.
“For raising the issue of staff rights, I’ve been threatened with defamation and accused of insubordination which of course is a farcical trick of intimidation. My interest is the 200 employees. I am hoping public pressure ensures three months’ payout to staff. For myself, if they continue to decline payment using legal chicanery, of course I will take all legal action necessary,” she told ThePrint.
Tiranga TV insiders told ThePrint that in the last few weeks, the channel had sacked several employees, including senior journalists, and closed down at least six bureaus.
“Over the last one month, the management has been sacking people in batches,” a channel insider told ThePrint. “Today, after the vertical heads met the management, they were told that the cheques are being prepared and everyone will be asked to leave with the salary of a month.”
The employees say that they have been told in clear terms that most of them will be asked to leave in the next two days but have not been offered clarification on if the channel will also go off the air.
“We haven’t been told if the channel is closing down, but with all employees gone and no fresh programmes being shot, how are they going to run?” the source quoted above said.
“It is clear that the channel would not be functioning as they would not have the staff required to run it, but it seems that it will not go off air anytime soon and will continue to run with pre-recorded news bulletins just to retain the licence,” another source within the channel told ThePrint.
The channel was not registered with the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC).
Another journalist at the channel, Anubhuti Gaur, said in a tweet that the employees of the channel are aghast that the channel is shutting down, and only one month of severance pay is being offered.
“This is to inform you that from now on we’ll be sitting here in the newsroom until u meet us & enhance the severance pay to 3 months (sic),” she tweeted.
We the employees of @NewsHtn won't leave Office till @KapilSibal you agree to our demands. We are still waiting for a response. No word yet…what are you waiting for? https://t.co/CLulOdopHd pic.twitter.com/fVGgiPGfKI
— anubhuti gaur (@gaur_anubhuti) July 15, 2019
It is understood that the media venture is not in sound financial health, with investments drying up.
Not shutting down: Veecon president
The channel top management, however, insists that it is not being shut down.
Talking to ThePrint, president of Veecon Media and Broadcasting Deepak Choudhry said the sackings were part of a restructuring. He claimed that while Veecon owns Tiranga TV, it has a contract in terms of sharing digital content and revenue with Analog Media Private Limited. According to zaubacorp.com, Promila Sibal is one of the directors at Analog.
Choudhry claimed that Veecon has around 70 employees while Analog had hired around 200 employees and blamed Analog for the sackings. Dutt’s contract was with Analog, he said.
“Tiranga TV belongs to Veecon. The channel will never shut,” Choudhry said. “As part of the restructuring, some employees might have been parted ways with Analog but no contract has been violated. The employees must take legal recourse if the terms of the contract have not been honoured.”
Asked if Tiranga TV is continuing with new shows, he said, “As of now, Analog is providing us with all content. If they don’t, we will look for a solution.”
Tiranga TV began as HTN news and was launched in January this year with an eye on the elections to “bring out balanced news”. It is operating on an old licence procured from the ministry by Veecon Media & Broadcasting in 2011.
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