Barely six months after well-known TV journalist Punya Prasoon Bajpai was brought in with much fanfare to head Sahara News’ national Hindi news channel Samay, Bajpai and his entire editorial team made a controversial exit on March 1, 2008.
Apart from the controversy surrounding Railway Budget programme with Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, which was anchored by Bajpai, non-performance of Bajpai and his team members is said to be the reason behind their departure.
Seven other senior editorial people have also quit along with Bajpai, an ex-Aaj Tak hand and recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism. These include Senior Executive Producer N K Singh (ex-NDTV); Executive Producers Sanjay Bragta and Nazim Naqvi, Alok Kumar, Head of Special Investigations Team, Piyush Pandey, Head-Output (all four ex-Aaj Tak), Pankaj Srivastava, Head-Features (ex-STAR News), and Ajay Kumar, who has reportedly joined INX News after putting in his papers at Samay.
It may be recalled that Bajpai had replaced Prabhat Dabral, VP-News, who was overseeing regional channels, apart from the Hindi news channel of Sahara. Even National News Channel Heads Prabudh Raj and Delhi NCR Head Satish Dwivedi were sidelined. Interestingly, Dabral has not been attending office since September 2007, when Bajpai was appointed.
The trouble for Bajpai and company began soon after the controversial programme on the Railway Budget, which was telecast on the night of February 27, 2008. The programme was conducted at the Railway Museum in Delhi with the Railway Minister and an invited audience. According to Bajpai, after the programme was over and the Minister was leaving, he casually asked him (Bajpai) “Tum Sahara mein kahe aa gaye? (Why did you come to Sahara)”. Bajpai replied, “Channel sudharne ke liye. (To improve the channel)”, to which Yadav retorted, “Yeh kabhi sudharne wala hai kya? (Will it ever improve)”.
What really bugged the Sahara management was that this unpalatable bit of conversation went on air even if the programme was not aired live. Not just that, it was carried the next day in a repeat telecast. Obviously someone forgot to edit out that conversation.
Following this incident, the management took Bajpai off the air as an anchor. Said Bajpai, “The whole issue was unnecessarily blown out of proportion by some vested interests in the organisation. I spoke to both Sumit Roy (Advisor, Sahara News) and Sahara Chairman Subroto Roy, but they kept on dilly dallying on the issue.”
He further said, “The crunch came on February 29, when I was asked to leave the studio, where I was getting ready to anchor a special programme on the Union Budget. It was too humiliating for me. It was then that I and my team members took the decision to resign.”
Though the Laloo episode proved to be a last straw, the Sahara management had been reportedly unhappy with Bajpai and his hand-picked team for their non-performance. They were appointed in September 2007 on hefty salaries (with joining bonus as extra incentive) to give a much needed facelift to the channel, whose TRP was averaging around 6 at that time.
Sahara had relaunched the channel at an expense of about Rs 20 crore, revamping channel distribution and promotion. Almost Rs 2-3 crore alone was spent on a new set for the news room.
Sources in the Sahara Group told exchange4media that despite all that support, Bajpai and his team had failed to perform. Samay’s current TRP is below 5 and the channel ranks only above Live India and the newly launched News24.
While acknowledging the support given by the Sahara management, Bajpai openly disputes the charge of non-performance. “It is too early to judge the channel on TRPs. We worked hard to make it a serious and credible news channel, which was clearly evident from the impact that our coverage of Gujarat elections, Nandigram and the Rizwan case had created,” Bajpai asserted.
When contacted for the official version of Sahara News, Sumit Roy declined to make any comments on this issue and asked exchange4media to speak with Abhijit Sarkar, Head of Corporate Communications, Sahara Group. However, despite several attempts, Sarkar could not be reached for his comments as his mobile phone was constantly switched off.
Meanwhile, exchange4media has learnt that two old hands of Sahara News, Vipin Dhulia and Puneet Kumar had been entrusted with the responsibility to head the affairs of headless Samay News channel in the capacity of Head-Input and Head-Output, respectively.
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