"She's a white bitch! She is not a journalist, she is a sensationalist. She is a well-known face on TV here, but her aggression is reserved for the government and its ministers," yelled Atul Gupta at company executive Nazeem Howa.
It was months before the chaotic launch of ANN7, the family's entry into 24-hour news TV, and Howa had suggested recruiting the award-winning broadcaster Debora Patta.
Atul Gupta exploded in expletives. The book "Indentured: Behind The Scenes At Gupta TV", by ANN7's inaugural editor Rajesh Sundaram, which was published on Tuesday, reveals the middle Gupta brother to have run an empire of fear at the television station's Midrand, Johannesburg, headquarters.
Later, when the station struggled to attract seasoned journalist presenters, Atul chose a new recruitment method. He told Sundaram that "I will ask Aslam (a minion) to get the modelling agency to send us sexy young models who will present our bulletins. We will not have to deal with these ugly old bitches anymore."
The models would not be paid in anything except a first pizza lunch, and the "prestige" of being on air.
Sundaram quit within three months, after a disastrous launch of the television station against his advice.
ANN7's launch became a national joke because Gupta insisted on using models instead of journalists as presenters, he did not allow the standard practice time for new launches, and equipment arrived just hours before the launch.
The book reveals how Gupta abused both the South African staff and the large contingent of broadcasters from India who were jetted in to help launch the channel. The Indian staff worked illegally on tourist visas while a first contingent of executives received business visas, awarded at a speed that exceeds the usual snail's pace of the department of home affairs. They were helped directly by former president Jacob Zuma's office, Sundaram alleges.
On launch day, Gupta exploded at the Indian studio technicians and told them: "You bloody monkeys. F*cking get out of here, pack your bags and go back to India. You are all useless people." An executive, Karun Shawney, was told: "Look down, you fool, how dare you look me in the eye when you talk to me. Don't you know I hate people who dare to look me in the eye? You bastards are f*cking my channel and my reputation."
The book is laced with examples of Gupta's abuse – as well as his mistreatment of staff from South Africa and India. The Indian staff members were paid much less than the South Africans, but the Indian staff were served staff meals while the South African staff looked on. All of them worked inhuman hours on inferior editing systems.
Neither did Gupta have any kind words for the staff of the family's newspaper, The New Age, which was – and is still – run only on government advertising.
"Rajesh, we have learnt a lot of lessons the hard way at The New Age. Many journalists here are blackmailers and work shirkers. Have you seen the way we have put biometrics and cameras everywhere in the office? It is to keep a close eye on each and every employee," Atul told Sundaram.
Sundaram says of his former boss that: "Atul did not trust anyone. Not his CEO, not his managers, not even his own extended family.
"He was known to shout and scream at employees, overrule decisions taken by professional managers, micromanage affairs and take decisions [on] the spur of the moment."
"Indentured" is published by Jacana and is now available in bookshops.