And this is a big one, trust me.
So, according to our insiders who kindly informed us, Dawn Media Group head honcho, Ms. Amber Saigol, addressed the workers at DawnNews yesterday on the floor of the newsroom and basically informed them that she wanted to simply shut down the channel because of the losses it had been incurring since its birth. But that she had been persuaded by the management (which would include her daughter Nazafreen Saigol) to give the channel 'one last chance.' So that is what she was going to do.
That last chance would involve restructuring the channel as a hybrid Urdu-English channel and a bunch of sackings. We hear that from February 15, DawnNews will broadcast Urdu bulletins from 9 to 12 in the morning as well at prime time, i.e. 9 to 12 in the evening. The English bulletins and programming would make up the rest of the day, primarily focused on audiences in North America.
Naveen Naqvi and Nadia Zaffar: Dawn and out
Now, not only does this mean that some prime time programmes such as Saima Mohsin's NewsEye would eventually face the axe (since they clash with the time allotted for Urdu), but that a number of people working on the English programming would also become redundant. A big round of sackings took place almost immediately. So far some 40 people have been issued their pink slips across the country, including 27 from Karachi alone. Among the 'big names' retrenched include anchors Naveen Naqvi and Razeshta Sethna, and senior producer Nadia Zafar and anchor Mariam Zaidi (whose only claim to being a 'big name' was admittedly that she said she was in an interview in latest issue of Xpoze magazine). The entire Current Affairs / 'Infotainment' department under Mazhar Zaidi has been demolished (though he remains) with even his senior producer Nofil Naqvi choosing to walk rather than accept a pay cut.
'It' girl no more
According to our moles, the criteria for the sackings is simply the cost of the personnel. Those anchors with salaries below Rs. 60,000 - 70,000 have been retained while the rest have been let go. A number of cameramen have also been retrenched, with only those with salaries below Rs. 25,000 retained. A number of personnel, such as Creative Department head Alia Chughtai, had already resigned earlier.
As for the rumoured move to shift the newsroom to Islamabad, it seems this is still under consideration, though production would still continue to happen in Karachi. The only explanation anyone can seem to come up with such a bizarre idea is that the current head of news, Mubashir Zaidi, who shifted to Karachi from Islamabad a few months ago, would like to move back. Suffice it to say that, if these rumours are correct, this would be a bigger disaster than DawnNews currently.
Now, I'm no expert on restructuring television channels, but it would seem to me that this will not work out, for a number of reasons:
1) A language-hybrid channel is unlikely to develop a brand loyalty and is likely to simply confuse its viewership.
2) It seems DawnNews is chasing after viewers who watch other Urdu channels such as Geo, Express, Aaj and ARY. But why should they switch to DawnNews for a mere 6 hours a day?
3) Those personnel who have chosen to stay with a pay cut have probably only opted to do so as a stop-gap measure, until they are able to secure a better-paying job elsewhere. The remaining staff are likely to be feeling equally insecure and demoralized and will probably jump ship as soon as they have the chance.
4) You get what you pay for. When you get rid of your celebrity presenters / best cameramen and feature producers (by far the best thing on DawnNews was its documentaries) how would you create your niche in the glut of television channels? Are you then not ensuring that the restructuring does not stand a real chance?
5) No business enterprise (and I'm not just talking about television channels here) has ever survived with half-hearted measures that in reality become a case of 'throwing good money after bad.' DawnNews was probably a losing proposition to begin with in the manner it was conceived.
And how long would Ms. Saigol give for her 'last chance'? Apparently four to five months. No wonder many within the channel are of the opinion that DawnNews will be shut down by the end of the current fiscal year.
A shame, but there you have it.