The Mumbai Press Club writes I&B Ministry to act against Media companies to stop illegal terminations. Club is dismayed and shocked at the announcement of several media houses shutting operations, firing staff and announcing mid-stream and unilateral cuts in salaries of journalists and other employees. Almost acting on cue, several of these media groups, citing restricted business operations and falling revenue, have put hundreds of journalists and other employees on the streets in the middle of the curfew period. At a time when media employees are going through challenging times and braving the coronavirus to go onto the field, and risking their lives to keep operations going, they have been ‘rewarded’ for their loyalty by the handing out of pink slips. These firings and closure of departments are both contrary to the due process of law, as well as violation of the advisories put out by the central government. It may be recalled that the Union ministry of Labour and Employment had issued a circular on 20 March 2020 advising both public and private employers not to terminate employees or reduce wages. In his address to the nation on 14 April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi again reiterated in his ‘Appeal No.6’ to businessmen and companies not to terminate their employees at the time of crisis.
It is in flagrant violation of the government’s directions that media houses have gone ahead and sacked personal and closed operations. These actions are also in breach of the law which requires government permission for closure and notice pay and other compensation under Sections 25 (O) and (F) as well as other provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act before terminating employees.
There is no doubt that business operations during the current lockdown are facing a crisis. However, it is expected that these companies should stand by their employees in this time of extreme crisis; and review their operations only when the situation eases. It is also not the case that all the media companies are in bad shape. The bigger groups like the Bennett, Coleman & Company (BCCL) or the Times Group, HT Media, the Bhaskar and Jagran Group and ABP Ltd are profitable and doing well. The few months of losses cannot be held against their employees, especially when for years these are the very journos and employees who have slaved for them to turn in a profit.
It has also come to our notice that despite this flouting of the law and killing of jobs by the media companies, they have on the other hand been appealing to government for aid. The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) has written to the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on 9 April seeking waiver of 5 percent customs duty on newsprint, two-year tax holiday for newspaper establishments, 50 percent increase in advertisement rate of Bureau of Outreach and Communication and a 100 percent increase in budget spend for the print media.
Some of the closures and job losses in recent days that has been documented are as follows:
– Hamara Mahanagar shuts operations on 18 March citing poor business viability.
– Outlook and Forbes India suspend print operations on 30 March and 27 March 2020, respectively.
– 15 journalists of the Sakal Group are asked to resign on 31 March
– Indian Express and Business Standard announce salary cuts ranging from 30 to 50 percent.
– India Ahead News announces salary cuts on 4 April 2020
– A section of journalists at The Quint are asked to go on leave without pay, others are asked to take a salary cut on 9th and 10th April.
– News Nation lays off its entire English digital team of 15 journalists and Star of Mysore suspends print operations on 12 April.
– Nai Duniya owned by Dainik Jagran suspends print operations on 13 April.
– Some of the big groups including Times Group, HT Media, Network18 Group and India Today Group have cutback or abolished some emoluments and are planning the shutdown of some departments and supplements and retrenching staff to save revenue. If these go through, huge job losses are on the cards.
In these circumstances, our urgent appeal is:
1. Media groups and employers agree to a moratorium on firings, and closure of departments during the current challenging period of the Coronavirus shutdown.
2. The Union Ministries of Labour and Information & Broadcasting urgently intervene to stop these illegal practices of closures and sackings which are contrary to the policy defined by Prime Minister Modi.
3. The Union government blacklist all media groups that have carried out illegal terminations of employees and closures, and bar them from benefiting in any way from the government’s rescue package /tax waiver schemes, as well exclude these companies from being recipients of government advertising.