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Tanishka Sodhi

Why did Sudhir Chaudhary leave Zee?

There’s hardly a primetime show on Indian news TV that is not identified with its host. “Shouty” to “communal”, it’s not hard to predict how a show will tackle a subject if you know the host. So, it’s quite surprising for the news industry that one of the country’s “most popular faces” on TV would leave his show rather abruptly.

Sudhir Chaudhary resigned as editor of Zee News and Wion on June 28. According to his resignation letter and Zee chairperson Subhash Chandra’s reply to it, Chaudhary has an “inclination” to start his own venture. “I had a couple of meetings with him in the last two days and tried to convince him to stay back, but since he is planning to start his own venture by utilizing his fan following, I did not want to come in his way of progression,” Chandra said.

There’s more to it than that, however, multiple Zee sources told Newslaundry.

Chandra had been seeking to sideline Chaudhary for a few months, they claimed, which could have prompted the editor to quit. There was also a power tussle involving Chaudhary and Rajnish Ahuja, chief content officer and editor of Zee News, who was hired from ABP News in September 2021.

Chaudhary’s absence from his primetime show DNA over the last few days had given rise to speculation about his resignation even before the news got out. On Wednesday and Thursday, the show’s logo didn’t even feature his picture. On Monday and Tuesday, while the journalist was still there in the thumbnail, the show was hosted by Rohit Ranjan of Zee Hindustan.

The sources told Newslaundry that Chaudhary hadn’t been attending Zee or Wion editorial meetings for several days before he left. By Friday afternoon he had left the company’s WhatsApp groups as well. His last DNA show curiously was about the Maharashtra crisis and how much money was being spent on keeping the rebel MLAs in Assam.

Power tussle

“Subhash Chandra was a little upset with the BJP after losing his Rajya Sabha seat recently. So some news bulletins had become a little neutral of late, like Chaudhary’s show on Assam. But I have heard this was against Chaudhary’s wishes,” said a journalist who held a senior editorial position in Zee until recently, adding that Chaudhary didn't want to be “neutral” as he had built a different image.

Newslaundry learnt that Chaudhary told a person close to him that Chandra was upset over his defeat in the Rajya Sabha election, and that “heads will roll”.

Chandra contested the recent election to the Rajya Sabha as a BJP-backed independent candidate from Rajasthan but lost, bringing to an end his first and thus far only term in the upper house.

The former staffer said there was an attempt to have Chaudhary share his authority. “People were being made to stand parallel to him. There was an imbalance of power that was happening which he was not happy with. I’ve heard that he was worried about this,” said the journalist. “Sudhir had become Zee News. The chairman didn’t like this. He wasn't fired, he resigned . But it was a sort of situation where he thought that he should leave before things got worse.”

It had indeed become difficult to separate Chaudhary from Zee News. And, the sources said, Chandra was not happy with the situation. Last September, Chandra said in an email to employees that at Zee, people had the “wrong habit to know individuals rather than the brand”.

It’s in this context that a journalist working in the company’s digital vertical pointed out, “There has been a power tussle going on after Rajnish Ahuja joined.” Ahuja wanted to bring in his own people and Chaudhary felt he was being sidelined, the journalist said.

A Zee reporter confirmed that Ahuja wanted to recruit people from his team at ABP News.

Ahuja confirmed Chaudhary’s resignation to Newslaundry but refused to comment further.

Newslaundry also reached out to Chandra for comment. He said we should speak to the company as he had nothing to say, without specifying who in the company he meant. Calls to Chaudhary went unanswered.

Newslaundry is a reader-supported, ad-free, independent news outlet based out of New Delhi. Support their journalism, here.

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