Sundaram sticks to his guns

ANN7 says the network refuses to be bullied by Sundaram's "crazy financial demands".

Rajesh Sundaram. Picture: Facebook

JOHANNESBURG - The Africa News Network7 (ANN7)'s Nazeem Howa has refuted allegations of misconduct by former employee Rajesh Sundaram and said he's disgruntled because he refused to give into what he has called "crazy financial demands".

Sundaram, a former consulting editor for the network, fled the country on Monday saying he feared for his safety after resigning and walking out the network's offices in Midrand and claiming he was threatened by an armed bodyguard.

He claims dozens of colleagues who joined him from India did not have the required documentation to work in South Africa.

Sundaram has also accused billionaire Atul Gupta of giving President Jacob Zuma assurances that the channel would be pro-ANC and that Gupta's guards threatened him when he left the company.

Speaking to Talk Radio 702's John Robbie on Tuesday morning, Howa said he wouldn't be bullied by Sundaram into a financial settlement which changed the whole tone of the relationship between them.

"I think he's a wonderful and talented individual, but we weren't going to be bullied into paying a huge amount of money not to do these things."

When asked if Sundaram was threatened and chased from studio, Howa said "absolutely not."

When asked whether the channel has put a pro-government slant on the news, Howa responded, "It would be crazy to assume that we would allow the President or any other politician to set our agenda. But you want to listen to perspectives to allow you to make good editorial decisions."

But Sundaram, who also spoke to Robbie this morning, said he's not disgruntled, but angry that his professional reputation lies in tatters.

He said allegations that he tried to blackmail the network are something he "finds very difficult to understand."

He said he didn't resign as a result of financial reasons, but because of "interference at every level."

Sundaram said since starting with the channel, he worked on average 16 hours each day, weekends and public holidays.

He said while he has a lot of respect for Howa, all he wants is what is due to him under South African law.

"I have engaged a lawyer and I will take this to a court of law in SA. I have the highest regard and respect for courts in South Africa and I believe I will find justice there."

When asked why he wrote such a glowing resignation letter, when he was so dissatisfied, Sundaram said he just wanted to part on good terms.

"I could've put my anger and dissatisfaction in the letter. But i would have achieved nothing by doing that. I just wanted to part on good terms."

Sundaram said he thinks an investigation by a credible agency is the only way the truth will emerge.

'PERMITS ARE KOSHER'

Howa said the visa and work permit issues used to bring the employees into South Africa are "absolutely kosher."

But Sundaram said he's willing to make a formal complaint to the Department of Home Affairs.

"I am not an expert on visa issues, but I can tell you clearly that there were many people brought in from India on business visas and were asked to do editorial work as well as people brought in on skill sets abundantly available in South Africa. There was a violation."

Sundaram said he's willing to come to South Africa on his own expense if necessary to clear his name.

He said what he saw was a "blatant disregard for laws of the land.

LAUNCHED TOO QUICKLY

The channel, which has been on air for more than two weeks now, sparked criticism for mistakes and technical glitches.

Sundaram said for some reason there was a huge amount of haste shown to launch the channel.

"Within two months the equipment came in, the employees weren't trained, the bugs were not fixed in the system and they went on air."

He said the reputations of those brought in to set up the channel are now in ruins and the morale of the young journalists is at an all time low.

"They have been traumatised by being exposed and seen as the face of this terrible launch."

Howa said the launch probably wasn't ideal.

"We made some serious errors. I think with hindsight and hindsight's perfect vision perhaps we should've waited a month, but at the launch we announced give us a month to give the system a chance to settle and the people to settle."

He said employees are being trained.

"It's a deliberate strategy and one we'll stand by and defend. We are doing a lot of training with them right now and think they've improved tremendously in the last 10 days".

Click here to read Sundaram's resignation letter.