“Protesting democratically is our right,” Chaudhary told viewers. “But what is happening right now in this country is that under the garb of protest, protesters are propagating violence.” He accused the students of burning vehicles, harassing the public, and “creating chaos”.
Chaudhary’s show was cited by Nasir Azmi, former head of video content at Zee Media, as an example of the channel’s “one-sided reporting”. In a letter to Zee Group’s chairman, Subhash Chandra, Nasir resigned from his position, pointing to the conflict between the organisation’s stance and its editorial decisions.
Nasir told Newslaundry: “Sudhir has become very powerful now. Nothing happens without him knowing. It is him and a few others who control the organisation right now.”
In his letter to Chandra, he wrote: “Now I feel Zee Media has failed its responsibilities of journalism, especially Zee News which I have given my golden time of life. Zee News failed…whether it was the matter of JNU and Kanhaiya Kumar, and recently AMU and Jamia Millia incident. The channel has tried to mislead the nation and its people, especially on Jamia, where students were beaten brutally after protesting against CAA and upcoming NRC. Therefore I have decided to discontinue my services on moral grounds, in the interest of the nation, and to save journalism.”
Nasir told Newslaundry that Zee would present issues “out of context” to mislead its audience. “Look at the JNU matter,” he said, referring to a 2016 protest at Jawaharlal Nehru University against the hanging of Afzal Guru. “The ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogan was never said by them. I haven’t been fighting for a day or two; it’s been two years since I started raising my concerns about the future of the organisation.”
Nasir brought up a recent video that did the rounds, claiming students at Aligarh Muslim University had shouted “Hinduon se azadi”. The students had actually shouted “In dono se azadi”. “But a lot of media houses, including Zee, used the video. The problem here is that when these videos are analysed in forensic labs and the truth comes out, media organisations like Zee never come out explaining that side.”
After the police brutality at Jamia Millia Islamia on December 15, Zee broadcast an “exclusive” on how locals burned buses and the police retaliated only to “control” them. On his show DNA, Chaudhary said, “Everyone knows of certain areas where a particular community lives and that area will not have any law prevailing. Students across several colleges are creating a similar environment in universities.”
Nasir claimed Zee News chose not to cover the police violence against Jamia students. “We have a WhatsApp group for editors. I was constantly forwarding the brutalities by the Delhi police against students. You won’t believe it: there was not a single comment or reply. In the next edit meet, it was decided that sides will not be taken and we will only say that violence took place.”
Interestingly, Zee Media sent Nasir a letter on December 4, saying his performance was “below average” and that he was being put on a “Performance Improvement Plan” for a month. Nasir alleged it was a consequence of his “constant questioning”. “I had raised my concerns regarding our team being understaffed,” he said. “Another matter I was targeted for was the contents I shared on Facebook. I have got calls from my employers asking me to not share such things.”
Nasir insisted that he wasn’t an underperformer. “They shifted me to a Cluster 2-level team three months ago. Instead of handling one channel, I was in charge of about seven or eight regional channels. In three months, suddenly they have issues with my performance.”
Newslaundry reached out to Purushottam Vaishnava, managing editor of Cluster 2 at Zee Media. Cluster 2 comprises regional channels, including Zee Hindustan. Vaishnava said covering an event is an editorial call, and not for video editors to decide.
“The problems [with Nasir] started much earlier,” Vaishnava said. “His work was not good enough and the discussion about removing him was going on. I intervened, considering he was a senior, and took him to Cluster 2. Even after the shift, all he did was complain and not work. And regarding our reportage on Jamia, he can’t take editorial calls, he is head of the video team.”
A Zee employee told Newslaundry, on the condition of anonymity, that Nasir was “playing the religion card”. In his letter to Chandra, Nasir accused the organisation of using racist slurs against him.
“Nothing like that happened,” the employee said. “As a person, he can differ in ideology and resign, but calling yourself some sort of saviour is a bit extreme. Here at Zee, we don’t discriminate, especially based on someone’s religion. There were a lot of professional issues mentioned in the letter. Of course, there were a few wrongs done to him as well but him coming out and just trying to be a hero is not fair.”
Nasir wrote that there was a “nexus” of four or five people, including Chaudhary, who take all important decisions in Zee. An ex-employee of Zee Media confirmed this. “The moment the organisation decides they don’t need you, they start pointing out every mistake possible,” the former employee said. “There is a nexus for sure, but I guess this is how media works in general.”