When Ravi, a member of the editorial staff at the Bengaluru bureau of Deccan Chronicle walked into his office on December 26, he had no idea what lay in store. That evening, he was informed that the newspaper, headquartered in Hyderabad, was closing down the Bengaluru edition the next day.
The announcement came as a blow to the staff who had been hoping for a revival in their newspaper’s fortunes after Aditya Sinha replaced AT Jayanthi as editor-in-chief earlier this year.
A reporter at the Bengaluru bureau told Newslaundry he was informed by the resident editor that the December 27 edition would be their last. While there has been no official communication from the management, he believes they would be promised jobs in the Hyderabad bureau. But it would be difficult for people with families to move to a new city, said the reporter who asked not to be named.
In spite of assurances by the management last month that their pending dues would be paid soon and that the Bengaluru edition would remain operational, the reporter noted, “the events that have unfolded show otherwise”. “What they did in Kerala was that after shutting down the operation, the e-paper was uploaded for a week, before it was discontinued completely. Our content was rich, people knew us, we were giving something concrete to the readers, we had a separate environment desk, we were doing stories on civic issues,” he added, explaining his inability to understand the decision to shut down the edition.
Started in 2009, the Bengaluru edition of Deccan Chronicle had become a trusted brand in the city, and one of the most profitable bureaus of the media house, which also owns Asian Age and Financial Chronicle. However, after the Deccan Chronicle Holdings Limited chairman Tikkavarapu Venkattram Reddy and his brother and vice-chairman Vinayak Ravi Reddy were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation for alleged fraud worth Rs 5,000 crore in February 2015, problems began cropping up. Faced with mounting losses, the DCHL shut down the Kochi edition of Deccan Chronicle and the Kolkata edition of the Asian Age.
In June, however, Kolkata-based Srei Infrastructure’s plan to take over the ailing media DCHL was approved by the National Company Law Tribunal and things had begun to look up. Six months later, it’s back to square one.
Ravi said the daily’s staff in Bengaluru haven’t been paid for six months. He’s getting increasingly worried because he has raked up huge debts. They had been assured their pending salaries would be paid within a month, only for the company to close down the edition. They had no inkling that the edition would be closed, Ravi said.
A designer who has worked with Deccan Chronicle in Bengaluru for over 10 years said he’d been finding it increasingly hard to support his family as the salary wasn’t coming. Now, it has only got worse. He too said he had no idea why the edition was shut down.
Delay in the payment of salaries had been a recurrent problem and forced many staffers to leave in the past. A former employee said when she started at the newspaper in 2017, salaries would be delayed by a month. By the time she left, the delay had grown to four months. She received the pending salary after she quit, but is worried about her former colleagues who were told to leave without notice.
While she was at the paper, the former employee said, there were constant rumours that the newspaper would be shuttering some bureaus. Still, she was surprised to find out the Bengaluru edition had been closed. “When the Kochi bureau was shut down, it was not that shocking since it was a small establishment, not a big operational centre,” she explained. “Now the Bengaluru bureau has been shut down and it’s very shocking because it was doing fine.”
Another former staffer at the Bengaluru bureau, who left last year after six years, said, “I always liked working for that paper. We had a riot of creativity on special days like when there was an election result. When I joined DC, it was really nice. But soon the financial crunch started affecting us. Salaries started getting delayed. In the last two years, salaries were credited with a delay of about three months, and that too only after protests from the employees would become unbearable for the management.”
He added, “Our Provident Fund contributions have not been credited by the company so far, and pension funds and gratuity are not even in the question now.”
‘Unfair to us’
A senior management executive at the newspaper’s Bengaluru bureau alleged that the company is trying to get out of paying the employees, pointing out that their superiors had cited the inability to afford newsprint to shut down the edition. But, the executive quickly added, it could just be a ploy to get rid of the staff.
Revenue generated in Bengaluru would now be directed towards the Deccan Chronicle editions in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the executive claimed, and predicted that the Mumbai edition would be closed down soon as well. Though Srei Infrastructure has taken over the DCHL, the executive pointed out, the ongoing legal battle between the owners of the two companies has impacted all the daily’s editions.
Absent any communication from the management, there is no clarity about the future of the staff in Bengaluru. A senior employee is unsure if they would be shifted to other centres, however. He pointed out that the Kochi bureau staff had been told they would be transferred elsewhere but the promise is yet to be fulfilled.
“We were bringing in a lot of revenue as we had a lot of backing in Bengaluru, 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 the rest of the team who are willing to go beyond the call of duty and our political reporting was extremely good. Now the reporters had to take terrible jobs because they hadn’t been paid for six months; many become delivery agents and cab drivers. DC hasn’t been fair to us,” the senior employee said. “They should at least have given us a heads-up so that we could have looked for other opportunities. They kept reassuring us 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.”
When Newslaundry contacted the printer and publisher of the Bengaluru edition of Deccan Chronicle, Mohammed Sikander, he denied that the bureau was closing down. The staff would continue to work for the newspaper, he added, there just won’t be a separate Bengaluru edition.
Ravi is a pseudonym used to protect the journalist’s identity.
Kapil Kajal is a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.