Posts Tagged ‘HT Media’

Operation Rajnikant: starring Samir & Vineet Jain

13 March 2014

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There are 12 media personalities in the Indian Express list of the most powerful Indians in 2014—”ie 100″—for 2014, but 10 of them are proprietors, only one is a journalist and the other is a former journalist.

As usual, the most interesting part of the prospective list are the factoids accompanying the profiles.

# 19, Mukesh Ambani, Network 18: Mumbai Indians player Dwayne Bravo calls him ‘Madam Boss’s husband’ (after Nita Ambani)

# 21, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Sakshi TV: He has a personal videographer who records every moment of his public life

# 38, Anil Ambani, Bloomberg TV: He has been a teetotaller except for one swig of champange at his wedding to Tina.

# 51, Samir Jain and Vineet Jain, The Times group: Last year, as part of their cost-cutting initiatives, they launched what they called Operation Rajnikant and Operation Dark Knight in which they set such impossible targets for employees that only a Rajnikant or a Dark Knight was likely to achieve them.

# 52, Mahendra Mohan Gupta and Sanjay Gupta, Dainik Jagran: Their annual chaat parties are a hit, something to look forward to.

# 56, Kumar Mangalam Birla, India Today group: He quit from the RBI central board to avoid conflict of interest with his banking license application.

# 68, Shobhana Bhartia, chairperson, Hindustan Times group: She speaks fluent Bengali and also reads the language. Every morning, a Bengali newspaper comes to her for her to read.

# 72, Aveek Sarkar, editor-in-chief, Ananda Bazaar Patrika group: Sarkar is a regular at the Wimbledon every year

# 80, Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief, Times Now: He is India’s most famous Assamese by a long way

# 87, Uday Shankar, CEO, Star TV: A JNU alumnus, he started as a journalist with Down to Earth magazine from CSE

Among the 27 exiting from the 2013 list are press council chairman Markandey Katju and Sun TV boss Kalanidhi Maran.

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The Indian Express power list

2012: N. Ram, Arnab Goswami crash out of power list

2011: Arnab Goswami edges out Barkha Dutt

2010: Arun Shourie more powerful than media pros

2009: 11 habits of highly successful media people

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Also read: 12 media barons worth 2,962, 530,000,000

10 media barons in India Today 2010 power list

26% of India’s most powerful are media barons

An A-list most A-listers don’t want to be a part of

Blogger breaks into Businessweek most powerful list

 

Shekhar Gupta storms into India Today power list

Shekhar Gupta storms into India Today powerlist

19 April 2013

Thirteen out of India Today magazine’s 2013 ranking of the 50 most powerful people in India have interests in the media, but only two of them (former Indian Express editor Arun Shourie, Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta) are pure-play journalists.

The chairman of the press council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, is a new entry at No. 50, just as Gupta is at No. 45, Hindustan Times bosswoman Shobhana Bhartia at No. 39 and Star India CEO Uday Shankar at No. 26.

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No. 1: Mukesh Ambani, chairman, Reliance Industries and “virtual owner” of TV18 (up from No. 3 in 2012)

No. 4: Kumaramangalam Birla, chairman Aditya Birla group, and 27.5% stake holder in Living Media (up from No. 5): “sings Hindi film songs, although only in close family circles”

No. 7: Samir Jain and Vineet Jain, The Times of India, down from No.6 last year

No. 26: Uday Shankar, CEO, Star India (new entry)

No. 28: Kalanidhi Maran, chairman and MD of Sun Group (up from 49 last year)

No. 31: Mahendra Mohan Gupta and Sanjay Gupta, chairman and CEO, Dainik Jagran (No. 31 last year)

No. 35: Subhash Chandra, chairman, Zee television and DNA (No. 35 last year)

No. 39: Shobhana Bhartia, chairman and editorial director, HT Media (new entry): Her home in Friends Colony (West) in Delhi was acquired from the erstwhile royal family of Jind.

No. 36: Raghav Bahl, MD, Network 18 (up from No. 44)

No. 38: Arun Shourie (new entry): His dictum: “We must learn to be satisfied with enough and enough is what we have at the moment.”

No. 41: Arnab Goswami (up from 46): “Plays loud music on his iPod before every show to unwind.”

No. 45: Shekhar Gupta (new entry)

No. 50: Justice Markandey Katju, chairman, press council of India (new entry): The Ph.D. in Sanskrit asked Lucknow lawyer S.K. Kalia who entred his court, ‘Ab tera kya hoga Kalia‘?

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Photograph: courtesy Indian Express

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Also read: 12 media barons worth 2,962, 530,000,000

10 media barons in India Today 2010 power list

26% of India’s most powerful are media barons

An A-list most A-listers don’t want to be a part of

Blogger breaks into Businessweek most powerful list

***

The Indian Express power list

2012: N. Ram, Arnab Goswami crash out of power list

2011: Arnab Goswami edges out Barkha Dutt

2010: Arun Shourie more powerful than media pros

2009: 11 habits of highly successful media people

HT strips Vir Sanghvi of editorial advisory role

3 December 2010

Have the Niira Radia tapes claimed their first journalistic victim?

Last Sunday, columnist and anchor Vir Sanghvi announced that his weekly ‘Counterpoint’ point in the Hindustan Times would be taking a breather. Today, Archna Shukla of the Indian Express reports that his designation as “Advisory Editorial Director, HT Media” has been changed to “Advisor, HT Media”.

However, as if to underline the old adage that we should never believe anything until it is officially denied, the CEO of HT Media, Rajiv Verma has clarified that the redesignation had nothing to do with the recent controversy. Sanghvi too claims that the move was decided upon 4-5 months ago.

On his Twitter account, Sanghvi, currently in Bangkok, has posted a link to his latest food piece: The magic of the Snickers bar and the old Cadbury slabs.

Facsimile: courtesy The Indian Express

Anything ToI does, the competition can do worse

31 May 2010

Over the last two decades, The Times of India group has earned plenty of flak for its marketing and advertising gimmicks that have erased the difference between what constitutes editorial and what is supposed to be advertising.

But what about its glorious competitors?

On top is the front-page wraparound of Monday’s Hindustan Times, with a full-page advertisement of the German automaker Volkswagen.

In italics is the punchline, “Anything that’s specially crafted by hand…”

Clearly as part of the ad campaign, which includes a 16-column ad for the Phaeton on the centrespread of the newspaper, every headline on every multi-column story on every page of the 24-page main section of HT is specially crafted by hand in the same italics font that adorns the Volkswagen ad.

Innovation? Or intrusion?

Does the reader care? Should she?

Also read: A package deal that’s well worth a second look

External reading: Volkswagen India road block: blitzkreig

Not just about the brothers, it’s the children too

26 March 2010

Far from being cowed down by N. Ram‘s threat to sue for the “demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions” in its report on “Ram’s role and actions in developments within the newspaper group and the company“, the Indian Express continues its coverage of the goings-on in the board room of the “Mount Road Mahavishnu” for the second day in a row.

For starters, Ram’s “decision” to sue to commence “civil and criminal defamatory proceedings” is a five-column story on the front page of  all 13 editions of The Hindu. Just what was precisely false or defamatory in the Express story is not something Ram’s statement points out, but it makes transparent the decisions, reassigning duties within the undivided Hindu family, taken by the board on March 20.

To the extent of conveying who is still in charge of The Hindu, and of sending a signal to employees and other interested parties, the statement leaves no room for doubt.

However, the phraseology of the statement indicates that it, if the case goes ahead (and Ram says on his Twitter feed that it will), it is likely that it will be personal battle of Ram and not of Kasturi & Sons, the holding company of the paper.

For its part, The Indian Express too carries Ram’s sue threat on page one, with as much prominence as it gave to the original report, but adds its own response:

“The report, ‘Battle for control breaks out in The Hindu very divided family’, (The Indian Express, The Financial Express, March 25, 2010) is based on information received from multiple and high-level credible sources.

“All facts were verified and cross-checked to the highest standards of accuracy and fairness that the Express Group holds itself to. We believe our report was neither malicious nor defamatory.

“We have great regard for The Hindu as an institution and for its editor-in-chief N. Ram as a journalist and editor for their commitment to principled journalism. We stand by our report and the reporter.”

In the process of defending itself, Express also makes public the purported transcript of the e-mail correspondence between reporter Archna Shukla and N. Ram before the story appeared.

However, The Indian Express doesn’t let matters rest at that.

On day two of its coverage, it quotes from an email sent by Ram’s aggrieved younger brother N. Murali (who has been kicked upstairs as “senior managing director”) to “colleagues”.

“At the Board meeting on 20th March, some directors subjected me to utter humiliation and attempted disempowerment. I will resist all attempts to deny me my rights, responsibilities and duties as the managing director,” Murali writes.

Murali has been stripped of his powers over the key departments of advertisements and purchase, and has now to share many of his duties (accounts, industrial relations) with newly appointed managing director K. Balaji, the well regarded son of former Hindu editor and Ram mentor, G. Kasturi.

More importantly, it is the letter written by Murali’s children Kanta and Krishna, along with youngest brother N. Ravi‘s daughter Aparna, quoted by Express on day two, that gives the clearest indication that this current round of the battle for control of 128-year-old Hindu is not just between M/s Ram, Murali and Ravi, but also about the generation that will inherit the paper from them.

“It is essential that the Board considers issues of corporate governance and the appointment of family members seriously,” write the three.

“To point out the obvious, the business cannot accommodate every member of the family, particularly when there are no institutional mechanisms in place to prevent the receipt of unjustifiably large entitlements over a long period of time.

“Each of us, whether in the previous, current or next generation, has received and continues to receive tremendous benefits from Kasturi and Sons, which far outweigh those received by non-family employees. It is high time that we recognize that our privileges are derived primarily from the contributions and loyalty of over 3500 non-family employees. Each one of us has, in some way or the other, abused their loyalty, trust and contribution.

“The inequitable and arbitrary system that currently exists is not only unfair to non-family employees but to shareholders as a class as well. If there is ever any intention of instituting sound and modern corporate governance practices and discontinuing the feudal system that exists, then issues such as the ones we have raised need to be addressed squarely, honestly and without fear or favour.”

Quite clearly, the recent appointment of children of various directors as foreign correspondents continues to rankle.

Ram’s daughter Vidya Ram (middle) was recently named as European correspondent of The Hindu‘s business paper Business LineNalini Krishnan‘s son Ananth Krishnan (right) replaced Pallavi Aiyar as The Hindu‘s Beijing correspondent; Nirmala Lakshman‘s son Narayan Lakshman (left) was hurriedly sent off as The Hindu‘s Washington correspondent filling a vacancy of nearly five years.

Speculation at The Hindu is that a couple of more “children” are also eyeing the exit sign at airports.

To be sure, both Ram and Ravi have done their stints as foreign correspondents, and sources say that one of the other directors (not N. Ram) was the prime mover behind the move to send Narayan Lakshman to Washington. So just what precisely the opposition to the recent appointments is, is unclear.

Express reporter Archna Shukla’s emailed questions to Ram mentions the “high very salaries” at which generation next had been hired which had apparently led to “unpleasantness among [board] members”. But in his reply Ram dismisses the complaint.

“To describe the relevant salaries as “very high” would be laughable; in fact, if the precise numbers were revealed, the salaries or renumerations would be characterised as “rather low”,” writes Ram.

While N. Ravi and Malini Parthasarathy have clamped up after their tweets yesterday, N. Ram continues to keep his 6,584 followers on Twitter posted with his version of the case.

He says he will do “exactly what I say”, which is sue The Indian Express for the “demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions” in its report, and even leans back on the Bard to back himself:

# “Is it not a reasonable proposition that in any democratic organisation, an isolated few must necessarily respect the will of the majority?”

# “Shakespeare (Othello, iii,3) is often cited on defamation: ‘Who steals my purse steals trash. But he that filches from me my good name….’”

# “There can be no defence, in law or intelligent discourse, for these demonstrable falsehoods that defame recklessly.”

While most other family owned English papers—The Times of India, Deccan Herald, The Telegraph, et al—have understandably remained silent on the goings-on in South India’s largest English daily newspaper, only Mint, the business paper published by the listed HT Media, carries any mention of the Express-Hindu standoff.

New Indian Express editor Aditya Sinha‘s tweet on day one that Deccan Chronicle was rumoured to be working on a story turns out to be just that: a rumour. There is no story in the Hyderabad paper, which has an edition in Madras, at least not today.

Nevertheless, Sinha tweets:

There are various theories doing the rounds on why the Indian Express has taken on The Hindu so openly and so aggressively on what is clearly an internal matter of a family-owned newspaper.

# Is this a legitimate news story without a “backstory”, an honest journalistic attempt to throw light on the opaque goings-on in “public institutions”?

# Is this a proxy battle between the left and the right in Indian politics?

# Is this an attempt to pave the way for a more investor-friendly management which might be amenable to foreign investment?

For a couple of years now, there have been rumours that The Hindu was seeking infusion of funds to expand its footprint in the face of competition. Kalanidhi (and Dayanidhi) Maran‘s Sun TV group was mentioned initially. Later, the Fairfax group of Australia came into the picture.

But those in the know point out that the Express story is a post-facto account of the March 20 board meeting.

All indications are that wicket-keeper Narasimhan Ram, who played one first-class cricket match for Madras in the 1965-66 season, is on a strong wicket. For the moment.

The tone and display of his statement in the paper make that quite clear. Also, in the middle of the melee, word is that Ram found the time to fly to Delhi and sup with Bill Gates‘ wife, Melinda Gates, on Thursday night.

Moreover, although a board meeting is said to be around the corner, a couple of key board members (both women) are said to be conveniently away from Madras, strengthening Ram’s hands, if push comes to shove.

Newspaper image: courtesy The Indian Express

Photographs: courtesy Twitter

Also read: Under N. Ram, The Hindu becomes a ‘sorry’ paper

The Hindu responds to churumuri.com. We do too.

A surprising first at employee-friendly Hindu

The great grandmother of all newspaper battles

When a newspaper is no longer a newspaper

HAROLD EVANS: ‘Families are the best custodians of newspapers’

Why did the editor cross Kasturba Gandhi Marg?

29 November 2009

So, why did Raju Narisetti suddenly leave Mint, the business Berliner launched by the Hindustan Times group, in December 2008, less than two years after the newspaper’s launch, and return to the United States?

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# Was it because he was opposed to staff and salary cuts as proposed by the management, as insiders claimed?

# Was it because he had carried out his mandate of launching a credible newspaper and was ready to move on, as the management claimed?

# Was it because he had a tempting offer as one of the managing editors of The Washington Post?

# Was it because his wife was finding living in India more and more difficult?

# Or was it because an pesudonymous open letter to the prime minister by a serving IAS officer published by Mint had not gone down well with the HT management (whose vice-chairman Shobhana Bharatiya is a Rajya Sabha member nominated by the Congress), as the market speculation was (which Narisetti denied)?

There has never been a clear picture, but an indication that Narisetti and HT had parted reasonably amicably came recently when his name resurfaced on the paper’s tombstone as “Founder-Editor”.

Now, Narisetti has revealed a bit more of the circumstances surrounding his exit in a New York Times story by Heather Timmons on people of Indian origin who find it difficult to work in the country of their birth and then return home to the United States:

“Some very simple practices that you often take for granted, such as being ethical in day to day situations, or believing in the rule of law in everyday behavior, are surprisingly absent in many situations,” said Narisetti, who was born in Hyderabad and returned to India in 2006 to found Mint….

He said he left earlier than he expected because of a troubling nexus of business, politics and publishing that he called draining on body and soul.

Also read: Pseudonymous author spelt finis to Mint editor?

Shashi Tharoor isn’t the only Tweetiya in town

‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

Pseudonymous author spells finis to Mint editor?

28 December 2008

avataraspxPRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Journalists at Mint, the business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group as “an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian dream”, are in a state of shock after the dramatic weekend announcement of the resignation of its founding editor, Raju Narisetti (in picture), less than two years after its February 2007 launch.

For the record, the well-regarded Narisetti, 42, maintains there is nothing more to the move than what an internal HT memo stated last week: that it is part of a “leadership transition that is aimed at leading the next phase of Mint” (which has an ongoing editorial arrangement with The Wall Street Journal).

Rajiv Verma, the CEO of HT Media, which publishes Mint, and in whose name the HT internal memo went out, told the media website, exchange4media:

“Raju had come from the US and he has been here with us ever since the paper was announced in 2006. He now wants to move back. However, as Advisory Editorial Director, his association with HT Media would continue.”

Senior HT staffers too claim that Narisetti was on “exit mode” for a while now, and Ranganathan Sukumar had been named as his deputy some months ago with precisely this possibility in mind. (The buzz is Narisetti is headed back to The Wall Street Journal, where he worked in its pre-Rupert Murdoch days, serving as its editorial head in Europe.)

However, the suddenness of the announcement has set journalistic tongues wagging, and there are quite a few within and outside the organisation who believe the exit may have had something to do with the publication of an opinion page article 19 days ago, by a serving IAS officer writing under the pseudonym Athreya (an inference subsequently refuted by Raju Narisetti on 4 January 2009, and termed as “irresponsible…lies”.)

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In the article “An open letter to the PM,” published on December 10, the pseudonymous IAS officer wrote, among other things:

# “Mr Prime Minister, you were selected, not elected by the people, for just one reason, that you posed no threat to anyone in the Congress party. You were not selected for your excellent PhD or for your integrity; not even for your competence as a civil servant. You were considered the least of all evils…”

# “[Y]our government has lost all credibility with the people, and the buck stops with you…. at least now, when India is under attack on its own soil, please act. And if you can’t act, please get out of the way and allow someone more effective to run the country.”

# “As PM, can you not sack or transfer your national security adviser, the Intelligence Bureau chief, the Coast Guard director general, the navy chief—can you or can you not get rid of your entire top brass and send a signal down the line?”

# “Are you telling us you don’t know that your telecom, environment and shipping ministries are the home of organized mafias looting the exchequer?”

Eight days later, the tone and tenor of the article clearly proved juicy enough for the BJP’s member of Parliament from Bangalore South, H.N. Ananth Kumar, to raise it in a Lok Sabha discussion on the economic slowdown to needle the government.

In response, the new Union home minister P. Chidambaram, went for the jugular:

“He (Kumar) cited an article allegedly written by an IAS officer. I have read the article. I do not know whether the name of that author given in that article is a true name or a pseudo name. I do not know whether he is an IAS officer.

“All I know is either he is a disloyal officer or a coward or both. If he had the courage, he should write the letter, sign in his own name and send it to the Prime Minister. But I hope they (BJP) do not encourage such officers; they did not encourage them when they were in power. So what is the point of citing a pseudonymous or anonymous author’s article taking shelter under it and running away when the reply is to be delivered?”

Mint, which has made its editorial integrity its USP, did not let matters rest there. The paper carried “An open clarification on an open letter” on December 22 with the declaration “Mint does not lie to its readers or knowingly mislead them. Period.”

And then Raju Narisetti himself joined issue the following day with an item on his Mint blog “A Romantic Realist”, with a piece entitled “On open letters and media ethics“.

The essence of the clarification and the blog post was identical. That while Mint‘s code of journalistic conduct doesn’t allow the use of “pseudonyms, composite characters or fictional names…” the said piece had been discussed internally and carried “because the author’s proposed article raised significant and valid questions to spur a national debate.”

Narisetti’s clarification and blog post didn’t stop at that. They reminded Chidambaram of the long tradition of anonymous articles, including a standout one, 71 years ago.

“In November 1937, the Modern Review, then India’s most well-regarded journal of opinion, published an article on Jawaharlal Nehru written by Chanakya, an obvious pseudonym. The author hit out at Nehru’s latent dictatorial tendencies and his “intolerance for others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient”. Its author warned: “Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar.” There were howls of protest from loyalists until it was revealed much later that Nehru himself was the author of this piece.”

Were all members of Parliament and bureaucrats who spoke anonymously to the media “disloyal” or “cowardly”, Narisetti asked.

As news of the resignation made the headlines over the weekend, reader Ganesh posted this comment to Narisetti’s blog post:

“It came as a shock to me that Mr Narisetti is leaving. But, we, Mint readers, need a proper explanation on why Mr Narisetti is leaving? Mint has done some good reporting on other media. Now it is a test for Mint to report on itself.”

Whether Mint will treat Narisetti’s resignation in the same professional way it has employed to report the rest of the media we will soon know.

The Hindustan Times, as a group, has had a number of editorial casualties at the top in the last few years. One editor (V.N. Narayanan) left after he plagiarised 1,240 words of his 1,400-word Sunday column from a Sunday Times, London, column. And one other editor is said to have had to leave because he took on a high government functionary, who has also been mentioned in the article by the pseudonymous IAS officer. The reasons behind the resignations have never been revealed to the reading public.

(An earlier version of this piece carried inferences which have been since excised following a belated clarification from Raju Narisetti.)

Photograph: courtesy LiveMint

Also read: Raju Narisetti: ’5 reasons to be optimistic of Indian journalism’

M.J. Akbar: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist’

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

7 December 2008

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Nothing is bringing home the seriousness of the global economic downturn to Indian media practitioners better than the breakneck speed with which media plans are being revised or revoked.

Just a few months ago, it all seemed hunky-dory—a 20 per cent growth for the media and entertainment industry in 2006, followed by an 18 per cent growth last year.

International behemoths were rushing to launch Indian editions or getting into tieups with local players when not outsourcing work here. Indian groups were launching more editions (and a TV station with some spare cash). Regional players were planning excursions into newer and hitherto unexplored avenues.

The share prices of listed media houses were defying gravity on Dalal Street—and the salaries (and ESOPs) of journalists was achieving near-escape velocity on India’s Fleet Street, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg.

The profits of at least two entities (HT Media and Jagran Prakashan) doubled year-on-year; another listed company Deccan Chronicle upped advertising rates by 30 per cent even as it launched cut-price editions in Madras and Bangalore to crown itself the “The Face of the South”.

With media employment growing by 27 per cent in 2007, the Union labour ministry hinted deliciously that by 2013, the media would create more, yes more, jobs than the information technology and IT-enabled services and automotive industries!

Forbes was quoting a Pricewaterhouse Coopers forecast that the Indian media would outpace the economy till 2011:

“Rising incomes and consumer spending fueled by the country’s robust economic growth will combine with expanded information delivery options over mobile phones and the Internet to drive a boom that will benefit all segments of the industry, from home video to radio to newspapers.”

But, suddenly, it doesn’t look so rosy.

The India launch of Financial Times is nearly off; no one is talking of the Hindi business paper that Dainik Jagran wanted to bring;  the Donnelly press that Network 18 had bought with great flourish is reportedly up for sale.

The fate of the launch of at least two magazines is in the balance. One prominent newspaper group is reworking employee contracts for the coming year; on the anvil is an across-the-board 30 per cent cut in cost to company.

On the television front, Debashis Basu writes in MoneyLife that with the collapse of the stocks of the major TV networks NDTV, TV18, UTV, the question is not why but what had kept the share prices spiralling up all this while?

“Continuous expansion into new businesses, set up through associates and subsidiaries which mesmerised the so-called strategic investors who pumped money into these entities. This created embedded valuation for the listed entity that everybody hoped would be unlocked to another set of suckers in the stock market.”

However, few of these developments can match the manner in which the Sakal dream has come crashing down.

The Marathi language newspaper group owned by Abhijit Pawar, the nephew of India’s powerful agriculture minister Sharad Pawar (whose daughter, the parliamentarian Supriya Sule is on the board), decided to grab a slice of the promised pie earlier this year.

The group’s English daily Maharashtra Herald was relaunched as Sakaal Times in Poona in May, in collaboration with a company set up by former Times of India editor Dileep Padgaonkar. Plans for a pan-India “rollout”, including an edition in New Delhi, were feverishly announced. A foreign affairs magazine materialised out of thin air.

So far, so good.

On the last day of November, staffers working at the Delhi office of Sakaal Times turned up for work only to be greeted with a notice that announced that their services were no longer required.

Below is the full text of an anonymous chainmail that chronicles how little stamina bottomline-obsessed publishers and managers have to stay the course; how The Great Indian Media Dream turned into a nighmare overnight for a regional group aspiring (and perspiring) to make it big on the national scene; and how journalists got trapped in the very bubble they had helped create.

***

Hi Friends.

Do you remember the BiTV (Business India Television) lockout?

Something worse than that happened on the 30th of November, 2008.

Sakaal Times, the English daily brought out in May (renaming the existing Maharashtra Herald) by the Sakal group of Poona (of the Marathi daily Sakal fame) and helmed by wannabe media baron Abhijit Pawar (nephew of Nationalist Congress Party leader, Union minister and former BCCI president Sharad Pawar), suddenly decided to close down its Delhi operations without any prior intimation to any of its employees, leaving nearly 80 people jobless at one go.

Those impacted are not worthless people—all of them, including me, had left secure jobs in respected media houses to join what sounded like an ambitious media venture from one of the most-respected media houses of Maharashtra.

The plans were big—following the Poona edition, there would be editions from places like (New) Bombay, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, and even a small edition from Delhi.

The paper looked impressive, with well thought-out stories and a nice design.

“Welcome to the Sakal family. Here all employees are treated like family members. Please visit our Pune headquarters sometime to know how we work like a family,” were the golden words from Arun Barera, the CEO of the Sakal Media Group during his interaction with a bunch of us around July-August, when the paper’s Delhi office was still in APCA House in Noida (on the outskirts of Delhi).

APCA, helmed by Dileep Padgaonkar and Anikendra Nath (Badshah) Sen, had taken charge of recruiting people and launching the venture as a BOT (build-operate-transfer) project. They did the job nicely and handed over the project to the Sakal group on November 1, 2008. Everything seemed good for all of us.

Then, since about a month ago, things began to go wrong.

About 8-10 people were asked to leave, but resident editor Dhananjay Sardeshpande called in groups to assure that nobody from the news bureau and features would be touched.

“Our plans have got delayed because of the market condition, but we will launch our Delhi edition by the end of this fiscal and our other plans are still there. We need all you people to be part of our vision,” he told us.

Just about two days ago, one colleague, who called him up, was told by Anand Agashe, director-editor of the newspaper, that whatever rumours were floating around were baseless. He, of course, said there will be a reduction of the number of pages, and a decision would be taken around December 2-3.

Suddenly, on the morning of November 30, a “Notice”, actually a print out on a blank sheet of paper (not the company letterhead), signed by an “authorized signatory” whose name or designation was not mentioned, was found pasted on the locked gates of the premises at the 1st floor of Pratap Bhawan on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, saying the Delhi operations are being wound up.

The letter was dated November 30, while the termination notice, with a cheque for part of our salaries for this month and one more month (minus the allowances which are paid against bills submitted) were sent through SpeedPost™ to all of us individually at our residence addresses from Poona on November 29 (some of us got the mails on December 1 while others are yet to get their individual copies).

The so-called ‘Notice’ said:

(For the information of the employees working for Sakaal Times)

Subject: Operations of Sakaal Times at Delhi

The new daily is incurring heavy expenses on Delhi operations resulting into substantial losses to the company. You are aware that this is further compounded by the present serious downtrend in the economy. Due to the same the circulation and the revenue generation of the newspaper has been seriously affected. Due to this it has become inevitable for the company to restructure its operations. On account of the said restructuring the Editorial work so far carried out at Delhi is no longer required to be continued. As a result, the operations are stopped forthwith and the persons working for Sakaal Times operations are being relieved. The necessary communication has already been sent to the individual employees on their postal address registered with the company. The relevant employees need not attend the office from today onwards.

The work of Magazines and TV will continue after some modifications of the premises for which the same will be closed for few days.

For Sakal Papers limited

Authorized Signatory

There was a rubber stamp of Sakal Papers Limited, New Delhi, affixed next to the illegible signature, which looked like an “A”.

Agitated employees gathered during the day itself on Sunday, November 30, to discuss the matter.

Quite astonishingly, colleagues who were working till late night on November 29 had no inkling of what was going to happen in the morning. In fact, one colleague was in Rajasthan covering the elections there when the lock out was announced!

The employees, finding that the premises have been locked out with some of their valuable belongings inside (eg, bank pass books, cheque books, etc) decided to register a complaint with the IP Estate Police Station regarding this. Photo Editor K.K. Laskar, as the convenor of the Committee of Sakaal Times Employees formed to fight the sudden lockout, registered the complaint.

Till then, nobody who has a say in Sakaal TimesAbhijit Pawar, Anand Agashe, Arun Barera, Dhananjay Sardeshpande, HR director Pradeepkumar Khire—picked up numerous phone calls made by senior journalists who wanted to find out the exact situation.

But within one hour of filing the police complaint, Pawar called up Laskar, claiming there had been a “communication gap” and things should not have been done as they have been. He “requested” Laskar to ask all employees to come to office on Monday, December 2, to discuss the matter with a team from Poona.

Almost at the same time, Pawar, Khire, Agashe gave contradictory and false statements to media persons who contacted them on the developments: “Abhijit Pawar, managing director of the 76-year-old Sakaal Media Group, said staffers had been informed earlier.

It has just been brought to my attention that the communication hadn’t reached everyone, and I’m sorry if that is the case. I have been told that a communication had been made informally to senior members of the staff in Delhi and it was supposed to have reached everyone. Everyone is being adequately compensated,” Pawar added.

Just look at the casual stance he has taken. Saying just a mere “sorry” for snatching the livelihoods of around 80 people.

Just look at the way he claims “I have been told.”

Do you “informally” communicate to senior staff or any staff members about a lock out (which anyway is a blatant lie as there was no such communication to anyone)? “It was supposed to reach.” The sheer insensitiveness of this man seeps through every word of his quote.

Sakal Papers’ Director, Human Resources and Operations, Pradip Khire denied the charge of the staff that they had not been informed about the impending closure. ‘It was communicated to them that their services are no more required and their dues are being settled,’ Khire told Indo-Asian News Service in Poona.).

Another blatant lie.

Can he provide any proof that staff had been informed about the closure?

Even the “termination of contract” letter received by some people on December 1 (posted on November 29, but received only by some on Dec 1) does not mention anything about the closure. It only talks about the company’s “right” to “terminate your services without assigning any reason by giving one month’s notice or a notice pay in lieu of notice—the company has decided to exercise this right and is terminating your contractual employment w.e.f 30-11-2008 after working hours”.

Where is the mention of the lockout? Can you find another such example of fork-tongued speak? (sic)

As we all know, there is a standard procedure for lock outs. Businesses may and do go bad, but the way Sakaal Times has done it, is pure evil. If it reminds everyone of how some chit fund operators vanish after pocketing money of investors, well, you are not at fault.

Any ethical company would have taken its employees into confidence, told them that they would have to shut down, and would have given them at least a month’s time so that they can look out for alternative jobs. But this is what a 75-year-old media group does.

This is what an aghast observer wrote to various e-groups:

“…The lock-out is illegal as they have not followed labour laws. The journalists have formed an action committee that plans to move court. The nearly 50 journalists are angry and aghast at such despicable treatment. This is an insult to journalists all over India who should rise to the occasion and send their condemnation to Sakal Papers Ltd. This is a paper with deep pockets thanks to its Marathi print monopoly….”

This is just for information of all media people, because if in future this group tries to hire you, beware and don’t fall for its so-called reputation. It’s a den of cheats and liars.

And please forward this mail to all mediapersons you know.

Also read: Old habits die hard for a ‘new’ newspaper

THE HOOT: Pink slip time

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