Kapil Kajal | Dec 27, 2019 | 7 min read
After being in the news in business papers for its long standing in the National Company Law Tribunal, The Deccan Chronicle showed a ray of hope in November with its bold and courageous headline "WTFadnavis" during the Maharashtra political drama. The appointment of Aditya Sinha as the editor in chief after the ouster of AT Jayanthi, brought up a lot of hopes to the staff as well as to the shrinking newspaper industry of India.
When Ravi (name changed), a senior member of the editorial team at the Bengaluru bureau of Deccan Chronicle (DC) walked into his office on Thursday (December 26), he didn’t know what was going to happen in the next few hours. However, in the evening, he was informed by the editors that the edition is shutting down.
After years of struggling and fighting to make a space for itself in the Garden City, the Bengaluru edition of Deccan Chronicle printed its last issue on Friday (December 27). Started in 2009, the Bengaluru edition of the newspaper had become one of the most profitable bureaus of the media house and had become a trusted name in the city. However, after the chairman of Deccan Chronicle Holdings Limited (DCHL), Tikkavarapu Venkattram Reddy, and his brother and vice-chairman Vinayak Ravi Reddy were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation over alleged fraud worth Rs 5,000 crore in February 2015, problems started cropping up for the media establishment.
Earlier this year, the Kochi edition of Deccan Chronicle and Kolkata edition of sister-concern Asian age faced shutdown. However, in June, Kolkata-based Srei Infrastructure’s plan over the resolution of the dispute related to the ailing media house DCHL was approved by the National Company Law Tribunal and things had started to look up.
Ravi added that they have not been paid for six months, and he is getting increasingly worried as he is in huge debt. He mentioned that they were assured that the payment of their pending salaries would be done within a month, but the curveball by the management has left him confused while he denies having any knowledge on why the Bengaluru edition is being closed.
A designer who had been working with DC (Bengaluru) for over 10 years highlighted that he has been facing immense difficulty in supporting his family as the salary has been pending for six months. He claimed that he doesn’t have a clear understanding of the shutting down of the edition.
The delay over the payment of salary had irked many members of the staff and the office had witnessed a heavy outflow of staff in the past. A former employee of DC Bengaluru highlighted that when she started in 2017, there was a delay of one month in the payment of salaries, but by the time she left earlier this year, the delay had increased to four months. She mentioned that it had become difficult to sustain, and only a small number of people were left and that too in the desk, while the remaining reporters would usually work from home.
She added that while the resident editor would try and reassure them that their salaries would be credited soon, the delay was taking a toll on the lives of people. While she received the pending salary after she had quit, she is worried about her former colleagues who were asked to leave without prior notice.
She stated that even while she was working, there would be rumours floating around regarding the shutting of bureaus, but she was surprised to find out that the entire Bengaluru edition was closed. “When the Kochi bureau shut down, it wasn’t that shocking since it was a small establishment and not a big operational centre, and now the Bengaluru bureau shut down, which is very shocking since it was doing fine,” she added.
She asserted that she is reluctant to call her friends, and mentioned that she first thought that the news of it shutting down was fake, but once an employee called her looking for openings in her organisation, her fears were confirmed.
Another former employee of the Bengaluru edition who left the company last year after working for six years, said, "I always like working for that newspaper and we ran riot of creativity on some special days like election results. When I joined DC, things were really nice. But soon the financial crunch started affecting us. Salaries were delayed and in last two years salaries were credited with about three month's delay only after the protests from the employees used to become unbearable for the management."
"Our provident funds have also not been credited by the company till now and pension funds and gratuity are not even in question now," he added.
A DC reporter, on the condition of anonymity, told Newslaundry that he was informed by the resident editor that the edition for December 27 would be the last issue for the Bengaluru edition. While there has been no official communication with the management, he believes that they would be promised jobs in the Hyderabad bureau, but he highlighted that it would be difficult for people with families to move to a new city.
“Despite the promises made last month [regarding the payment of dues and assurance that the Bengaluru edition will be operational], the events that have unfolded show otherwise. What they did in Kerala was after shutting down the operation, the e-paper continued to be uploaded for a week, before discontinuing it completely. Our content was rich, people knew us, we were giving something concrete, we had a separate environment desk and we were giving stories on civic issues as well,” he stated.
Unfair to us
A senior member of the management with DC Bengaluru, citing anonymity, told Newslaundry that the company owes salary and other benefits to its employees and alleged that the company is trying to get out of paying the staff. The senior member mentioned that the higher management cited the inability to afford newsprint to keep the issue operational. However, it could just be a ploy to get rid of the staff, the employee claimed.
The senior employee claimed that all the revenue generated from Bengaluru would be redirected towards editions in Andhra and Telangana. Apart from the Kochi edition, even the Kolkata edition was shut and the senior employee believes that the Mumbai edition would be facing the axe soon as well. Even though Kolkata-based Srei Infrastructures had taken over DCHL, the ongoing battle between the owners has impacted all the editions, the senior employee asserted.
While there is no clarity on the future, the senior employee is unsure if the employees of the Bengaluru bureau would be transferred to other centres. Even though the staff from the Kochi bureau were told that they would be transferred, the promises are yet to be fulfilled, the senior employee claimed.
“We were bringing in a lot of revenue as we had a lot of backing in Bengaluru itself, from the state government, from private entities, we were commercially viable. We all gave our sweat and blood to DC. We have some fantastic reporters and team, who are willing to go beyond the call of duty and our political reporting was extremely good. Now the reporters have had to take terrible jobs because they had not been paid for six months and many have become delivery agents and cab drivers. DC hasn’t been fair to us. They should have at least given us a heads-up so that we could have looked for other opportunities. They kept on reassuring that everything would be better without actually addressing the issue. We journalists are not very smart with money, we just chase our story, we are the agents of change and putting us in this situation is not fair,” the senior member alleged.
The printer and publisher of the Bengaluru edition Mohammed Sikander told Newslaundry that everything is normal and denied the reports of the bureau closing down.
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