Television journalist Barkha Dutt on Monday lashed out at senior lawyer Kapil Sibal and his wife on Twitter, explaining an "appalling" turn of events at a Noida-based English news channel -- Tiranga TV -- which was promoted by former Congress MP's wife.
In a series of tweets, Barkha alleged that more than "200 employees have had equipment confiscated and face sackings without even a 6-month payout."
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
Outlook reached out to Sibal but he refused to comment on the matter. However, sources at the TV channel said not "a single contract went unhonoured".
Barkha also alleged that seniors like her hadn't been paid for a year, adding that she was being threatened with defamation and ordered to "withdraw my emails" comparing Kapil Sibal to Vijay Mallya, the liquor tycoon currently in the United Kingdom.
"Am told @KapilSibal & wife wanted to use Modi as an excuse to sack staff saying Modi didnt 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," read one of her tweets.
Lastly, it would be easy for me to be silent. @KapilSibal owes a lot of us senior staff salary for a year and has refused to pay it. We will fight that legally. But what is more critical is 200 employees whose lives depend on this. Hope @IndEditorsGuild protects this staff— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) July 15, 2019
Outlook reached out to Kapil Sibal but the senior lawyer refused to come on record.
However, sources said that Sibal was personally not involved in the venture, and it was his wife who had launched the channel.
"The company faced troubles after May 23, the day BJP-led NDA government returned to power; the investors backed off and the current investor refuses to invest further," the source said, adding the channel was struggling to get advertisers after PM Narendra Modi's victory.
"How could anyone run a channel without money," a source said.
Sources also alleged that Barkha took up the matter only after her contract was terminated earlier this month.
A source at Tiranga TV also confirmed to Outlook that some contracts had a 3-day notice period clause, which the employer and employee both were entitled to use.
An employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Outlook that the employees were on Monday sitting in the office "cluelessly".
"Most systems have been taken away but we are still working with what is left. The fact that our head still wants us to slog ourselves even when the owner doesn't care about the channel is appalling.
"There's absolutely no clarity about the situation. The owners behaved in a completely undignified manner," the person said.
A senior journalist, who was among the first ones to have been hired by the organisation, claimed the administration had said that the channel was being looked at as a business venture and would continue for at least two years.
The journalist, however, rubbished channel's claims that the Modi government was tightening the noose around them. "It was all hogwash and we realised it immediately," the journalist said.
Another journalist, who was laid off in the month of June, told Outlook that everything, from work environment to programming, was good, but things went haywire after the elections.
The journalist added that "rumours about the channel shutting down started doing the rounds only after the polls."
The employee also said that people were initially called and told they should start looking for opportunities since the channel was going through a rough phase.
"Our biggest grievance is that we weren't appropriately compensated at the time of lay off," the employee said, adding, "we understand that channels face such situations, but you follow industry norms of paying at least 6-month salary when you fire people."
Journalists, over the past month or so, have protested unceremonious firing of employees at the channel. On July 3, sacked employees had staged a protest outside Kapil Sibal's residence in New Delhi.
The channel is still airing on some platforms but is running pre-recorded news bulletins.
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