Two months after the Kolkata-based ABP Group announced that there would be around 40 per cent job cuts in its English daily The Telegraph and Bengali flagship Ananda Bazar Patrika, the axe has finally fallen. On Thursday between journalists and other members of the staff from The Telegraph clubbed with those from ABP, over 120 were asked to resign.
Among the hardest hit in the bloodbath was The Telegraph’s features bureau. Senior members of the department were asked to go and nearly all state correspondents axed. The political bureau also saw several sackings — at least three in Delhi and many others in state capitals. The paper’s photo and web departments have been denuded as well. The sacked journalists include both wage board employees as well as those on contract.
Pages of both ABP and The Telegraph were reduced drastically from December last year. The Telegraph’s popular Sunday magazine Graphiti was also scrapped.
However, ABP has been extremely generous in its severance package to journalists. While younger staff are being given a few months’ basic as compensation, those who have put in several years of service with the company are getting anything between 75 to 100 per cent of a year’s CTC. Journalists who have been with the company for 20 years or more are also going to be paid their basic salaries up to their retirement age.
The layoffs and extreme cost-cutting measures at ABP come in the wake of rumours that The Telegraph may be up for sale. Sanjiv Goenka, chairman of the RP Sanjiv Goenka Group, is one of the names being thrown around in Kolkata as a prospective buyer. In 2015 Business World, ABP’s business magazine, was sold as well.
The shocking spate of job cuts in ABP is the second big story of media retrenchment in recent months. HT Media also cut a 100 plus jobs early this year, shutting down editions of Hindustan Times in Kolkata, Ranchi, Bhopal, Indore, Varanasi, Kanpur and Allahabad. HT’s business bureaux in Mumbai and Delhi were also shut down and the work outsourced to the staff of its sister publication, Mint.
The pressure of dwindling ad revenues, especially in the aftermath of demonetisation, is being cited as the principal reason for job cuts in media houses. The Times of India is also said to have put in place a freeze on hiring — after complaining in a lengthy Op-ed about the way wage board revisions in the pay scale of journalists and others was eating into the viability of running media organisations.
However, the layoffs in ABP have a dimension other than a purely economic one. It is being seen as a culture shift in the Group after owner Aveek Sarkar stepped down as Chief Editor in June last year. His younger brother Arup Sarkar, who helms the group now, is regarded as a more practical owner who is keen to shed flab and make his publications more cost efficient.
Insiders say that Aveek Sarkar has been entirely marginalised now and has no say whatsver in the running of the papers.
Meanwhile, journalists at ABP who survived the culling are keeping their fingers crossed. Not everyone believes that they have seen the last of the layoffs. Morale is at rock bottom and the future looks tense.