Avadhnama-Maharashtra, whose editor Shirin Dalvi is at present caught in a controversy over publishing the cover of Charlie Hebdo magazine carrying a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed, was being run on a franchisee model by a group of mostly Hindu media professionals.
The struggling franchisee was supposed to start paying a royalty of Rs 1 lakh per month from January to the original owner as part of the agreement when the paper was shut after the controversy.
Avadhnama was a bi-lingual newspaper (Hindi and Urdu), headquartered in Lucknow, and listed in the name of one Taqdees Fatima Rizvi. It published editions in five cities of Uttar Pradesh before a group of young media professionals from Mumbai decided to bring the paper to Mumbai just ahead of the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections.
In December 2013, a deal was signed between Marik Media and Communications Pvt, which has Deepak Mhatre, Bhushan Mhatre and Amit Kabre listed as its directors, and Rizvi to allow them to print and publish the newspaper in Mumbai for a period of 108 months. As part of the agreement, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, a royalty of Rs 1 lakh was to be paid to the owners from January, 2015 — a year after the paper commenced operations.
The Mhartres chose a septuagenarian — Khalil Zahid, a veteran journalist, who has been out of the profession for the last two decades — to be at helm of the paper. “The Mhatres approached me and said that they want me to head the newspaper. I asked them how much money they had, and they said they had Rs 1.5 crore for the venture. However, a month into the launch, there was a deficit of Rs 5 lakh,” Khalil Zahid told The Indian Express.
“The directors only wanted to make money from the elections. I guess they made over Rs 60 lakh during the Lok Sabha elections,” Zahid said.
He also said that Mhatres, who had earlier worked with marketing departments of newspapers in Mumbai, would dictate whose photo should be published in the newspaper.
“They would ask why we were carrying a particular person’s photo as we had got no money from him. They hardly seemed to understand anything of journalism,” Zahid said.
Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, the newspaper was re-launched with its pages decreased from 12 to eight.
“On July 29 last year, I found that my name as editor was replaced by that of Shirin Dalvi who till then had no part to play in the newspaper,” Zahid said.
After Dalvi’s entry, the paper was transformed into a tabloid and more people were told to go due to “financial crisis”.
Former employees of the newspaper claimed that publishing the Prophet’s cartoon was part of a game plan to shut down the paper without facing any financial repercussions as from January, the publishers would have become liable to pay Rs 1 lakh every month to the original owner. “They were not in a position to do that. I think that publishing the cartoon was a way of getting the unviable paper shut without facing financial damages,” said Zahid.
The Mhatres were not available for comment and did not respond to phone calls or messages. Dalvi, however, said that there were no plans of shutting down the paper.
“The management had no intention of shutting down. This was the first Urdu tabloid in the region and we got a good response from people,” she said. She, however, acknowledged that workers were retrenched and the staff size scaled down from 25 to 12. She added that if given a chance, they would “revive the newspaper”.