NDTV fires close to 100 technical staff; sources suggest employees in editorial divisions may be next

Close to 100 employees have been fired by New Delhi Television (NDTV), and the decision has shaken up journalists who have always considered the channel to be the best place to work in news television. Senior camera persons and technical staff are among those who lost their jobs. What's more, there are high chances that another round of pruning could take place soon, and this time the slips would be offered to those in the editorial team — producers, middle-rung editorial writers, and juniors who had picked up their appointment letters not very long ago.

While a bulk of those who lost their jobs are from Delhi and Mumbai, some other centres also witnessed downsizing, claimed a source in the channel. Those sacked worked in English and Hindi language channels in the media house.

Sacking technical staff in news channels has always been easy. The technical staff, comprising camera persons and light boys, were once part of editorial departments. But of late, following tighter audit scrutiny, they were re-classified as "technical staff".

NDTV fires close to 100 technical staff; sources suggest employees in editorial divisions may be next

File image of NDTV co-founder Prannoy Roy. PTI

The channel said the move was necessitated by its decision to move to Mobile Journalism or 'MoJo', where reporters record visuals and piece-to-cameras using their mobile handsets or digital cameras. This in turn severely reduces news gathering expenses of channels, which have a huge inventory of camera persons and other technical staff. A senior NDTV source said live crews were being replaced with reporters webcasting to the studios through Skype and other internet portals over hi-speed mobile data.

The source further said newer reporters have already been given smartphones and told to check out systems used for news operations. While it was not immediately known why reporters were being encouraged to use smartphones to cover news, the source claimed it was because the channel was facing a "serious financial crunch".

"The editorial is experimenting currently and could soon shift to a different kind of video production. Hence, the changes are happening," the source claimed.

Sonia Singh, editorial director of the channel, said the decision was not "editorial" but purely related to "human resource issues". In a press release, the channel said it was reorganising its newsroom and resources to focus on mobile journalism. "NDTV has always been an early adapter of new technology — and we are the first major network in India whose reporters are all trained in using mobile phones to shoot stories. This is not just about cost-cutting, though that is certainly, for us — like any other responsible business — an important factor in operations. Mobile journalism means reports are lightning-quick and much more efficiently produced — a priority for any news company. After NDTV's switch to this new model, other news networks in India are now experimenting with similar training," the note said.

The note further said it would be irresponsible to viewers and to shareholders — as well as archaic — to maintain decades-old templates of how to shoot and edit. "NDTV has long been valued for its commitment to its employees — our record on attrition across more than 20 years is testament to this and is spoken of across the industry. We have ensured fair compensation for those employees affected by our restructuring," said the note.

"The emphasis on restructuring is rooted in the broader financial climate, our commitment to controlling costs (our financial statements are available on our site) and, most importantly, our move to consolidate on our core business — quality news content," said the note.

It is reliably learnt that the channel offered five months' salary to those fired. NDTV, headed by Prannoy Roy and his wife, Radhika Roy, has been under severe financial stress ever since Income Tax authorities claimed that it found anomalies in the financial dealings of the channel and its promoters.

Interestingly, the decision of the NDTV management to sack a large number of its staffers comes close on the heels of the controversy around the channel's income tax assessment and a huge tax penalty arising out of it. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) recently passed a ruling on an appeal by both NDTV and income tax authorities on what the media house calls a case "related to the investment of $150 million in 2008 by GE/NBCU".

The channel issued a note for journalists after news of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) case against NDTV went online and spread like wildfire, triggering speculations that the channel had been held guilty on income tax assessment and had to pay a huge fine.

The NDTV press note said the following: "Some media reports have completely misreported the recent order of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) in a case related to the investment of $150 million in 2008 by GE/NBCU. These media reports are quoting from a press release by the Income Tax department which not just distorts the verdict, but outright lies about it."

The channel's promoters have decided to appeal against the 14 July ITAT decision (which upheld a portion of the IT department's assessment) before the Delhi High Court.

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Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 23:07:12 IST

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