It started off as a whisper, with a few Tiranga TV employees taking to Twitter to air their grievances about being laid off with just a month’s severance pay. But over the past couple of days, this whisper has grown into a resounding call for justice, as more ex-employees join in to protest against the unfair treatment meted out to them.
In fact, on July 15, eminent journalist Barkha Dutt put up a series of tweets calling out the promoters of the channel, Congress MP Kapil Sibal and his wife, Promila Sibal, for treating journalists in a “hideous” way. Her tweets mentioned that “more than 200 employees have had equipment confiscated and face sackings without even a 6-month payout” and that “@KapilSibal & wife have referred to female staffers as “K*****” or “B****”. The news anchor, who also revealed that salaries of some senior staffers like herself hadn’t been paid for a year, decried the promoters for shying away from having a conversation with the aggrieved employees.
“There has been more than one occasion when @KapilSibal has embarrassed himself. But a man who earns in the crores, duping and cheating journalists with a two-year guarantee & then sacking them without the decency to even meet them, and then refusing to pay their dues — truly revolting(sic),” said her tweet.
The aggrieved staff members, who have been demanding that the management meet with them and enhance their severance pay to three months, decided to occupy the channel’s newsroom till their demands were met. However, at the time of writing this article, no progress had been made on either front.
“It’s already been 24 hours! We @NewsHtn employees spent the entire night in office! @KapilSibal We were told that management would get back to us by 12 PM today with a decision on our salaries...but still no response! How long are we supposed to stay here? Answer us! @BDUTT (sic),” said an employee’s tweet on the Twitter account 'Fired Employees Tiranga TV (@NewsHTN)'.
Though accusations have been flying around, and it is only natural for an employee to want a better severance package, High Court advocate Varsha Bhogle Deshmukh says that when it comes to layoffs, it all depends on the contractual arrangement that exists between the employee and the employer. “In the absence of a contract, provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 can be referred to to determine just and fair compensation. In the presence of a contract, compensation is decided by the employer or through mutual agreement, but even this must be read in harmony with the Act. However, in the case of contractual agreements, the Act provides that there can be a cap of minimum 45 days pay. If the employee, after agreeing to the terms of the contract at the time of joining is unhappy with the 45-day pay clause, he or she can take recourse through labour unions, but equity and good conscience cannot supersede the Act,” she says.
New government to blame?
This isn’t the first instance of a media channel running into troubled waters, due to insufficient funds. This has led people to wonder if the recent election results have triggered this financial crisis within Tiranga TV. In a July 12 article, an online publication alleged that Tiranga TV, which was supposed to amplify voices from the Opposition because of the Kapil Sibal connect, was receiving no advertisements and that the only ads that were playing on the channel were Tiranga TV promos.
However, in her series of tweets, Barkha said that the channel shutting down had nothing to do with the government and everything to do with Kapil. “Am told @KapilSibal & wife wanted to use Modi as an excuse to sack staff saying Modi didn’t let channel run. But to be absolutely blunt. GOI has done nothing. Husband and wife have not faced staff, went on holiday to London, while shutting shop, prompting me to call him Mallya,” she wrote.
But there are others who think otherwise. Outspoken actress Khushboo Sundar says, “Barkha’s been targeting Kapil Sibal but the truth of the matter is BJP won’t let any media function freely and independently. A similar example is the way they targeted Prannoy Roy for being an unbiased media voice. We live in a climate of absolute control of the BJP over media and any channel that is independent will be muzzled out of the radar.”
Political analyst Abhay Deshpande, while clarifying that his statements do not relate to the Tiranga TV fiasco, says that it isn’t uncommon for media houses to face issues after a new government comes to power.
“Whenever the ruling party changes, there is an impact on media houses also. Mouthpieces of the party will definitely get an advantage and there could be a vindictive approach towards certain media houses that are critical of the government. This impact has been amplified of late because this is the first time we’re having a single-party government in power with a particular ideology and strong leadership,” he says....