NDTV fires nearly 70 technical staff as it shifts to mobile journalism: Report

New Delhi Television (NDTV) has laid off several employees across the country as it restructures its resources, Outlook magazine reported on Monday. 

According to the report, while NDTV's editorial staff has attributed the layoffs to a shift towards mobile journalism, or MoJo, other sources have said that reason is that NDTV is facing financial stress.  

Citing sources, the report said that close to 60 or 70 staffers, including 35 camera persons, were affected by the layoffs. Other than the camera persons, the other people affected were mostly technical staff.  

In its official statement on its business restructuring, NDTV has said that it has ensured fair compensation for affected employees. 

The statement said that NDTV has always been "an early adapter of new technology" and provided the rationale for shifting to MoJo. The statement said: "... We are the first major network in India whose reporters are all trained in using mobile phones to shoot stories. This is not just about cost-cutting, though that is certainly, for us - like any other responsible business - an important factor in operations. Mobile journalism means reports are lightning-quick and much more efficiently produced - a priority for any news company." 

The official statement claims that the recent controversy surrounding the channel with regard to alleged tax evasion have nothing to do with the restructuring. 

The statement said: "The court cases that are an attempt to punish NDTV for its award-winning objective journalism do not influence how we run and operate our newsroom. The emphasis on restructuring is rooted in the broader financial climate, our commitment to controlling costs (our financial statements are available on our site) and, most importantly, our move to consolidate on our core business - quality news content"

The restructuring comes amid a public controversy involving the channel and its promoters. Last week, according to agency reports, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal upheld a tax demand raised on a $150-million investment by a US television network in NDTV in 2008. The company, for its part, said that the order has "numerous inconsistencies and contradictions".

With the ITAT's July 14 order upholding the tax demand, penalty proceedings are likely to commence shortly.

The tax department had alleged that Rs 218.30 crore was the tax that was sought to be evaded on investment of Rs 642.54 crore. It had sought a penalty of Rs 436.8 crore at the rate of 200 per cent of tax evaded.

Responding to the ITAT's ruling in a stock exchange filing, NDTV said that it was surprised at the tribunal dismissing its appeal filed against the tax demand.

"It is important to note foremost that the ITAT has accepted that there was no round-tripping or money laundering, as was alleged by income tax department," the channel said.

As reported in the first week of June, CBI officers raided the residence of Prannoy Roy, a senior journalist and co-founder of NDTV, and other premises linked to the channel. 

According to the report, the CBI has registered a case against Roy, his wife and NDTV co-promoter Radhika Roy, their private firm RRPR Holdings and NDTV India. The First Information Report (FIR) also mentions "unnamed ICICI Bank officials" among the suspects.

The FIR, which has alleged criminal conspiracy and invoked Prevention of Corruption Act, was based on a complaint by Quantum Securities, a firm run by Delhi-based stock broker and NDTV shareholder Sanjay Dutt. Dutt, the report added, has had lodged several complaints against NDTV and its promoters with various agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Income Tax Department.

Also, ahead of the restructuring, NDTV took its English business news channel, NDTV Profit, off-air from June 5, 2017. The channel, which was turned into a hybrid of business news and entertainment, will become a full-time infotainment and entertainment channel, the company has said in a statement to stock exchanges. 

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