New Delhi: Congress MP and former Union minister Manish Tewari has written a letter to Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, requesting that the ministry issue an advisory to all media outlets “to not retrench their employees and to pay their salaries on time”.
Tewari’s letter comes in the face of recent reports that journalists from leading English and Hindi media outlets were being let go due to the panic over the Covid-19 lockdown and its economic cost.
My letter to @PrakashJavdekar today morning requesting him MIB must issue an advisory with regard to the Employment paradigm in Media Industry.
My apprehension unfortunately are turning out to be correct as lot’s of Jurno’s & other Media Employees are already reporting lay off’s pic.twitter.com/RgKbrAifvJ
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) April 13, 2020
Tewari was Union minister of state with independent charge of information and broadcasting under the UPA-II government between 2012 and 2014, and said in his letter that the lockdown must not become an “excuse” for firing journalists.
“I do understand that these are tough times, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown cannot be an excuse for firing people considering that it has been only three weeks since the lockdown began,” he wrote.
Speaking to ThePrint, Tewari said: “My letter to Prakash Javadekar is not organisation-specific or news channel-specific. It is to flag, and try to stop, a broader trend across the industry which has been triggered.”
What media houses have done so far
There have been several reports of journalists being sacked or asked to take pay cuts in the last few days.
Outlook magazine has stopped its print publication. On 30 March, its editor-in-chief Ruben Banerjee put out a public note, stating: “We are announcing a temporary suspension of the print edition of Outlook magazine with immediate effect.”
Meanwhile, The Indian Express has asked employees to take pay cuts. On 1 April, in an email to employees, CEO George Varghese wrote: “Vendors are insecure, RWAs (Resident Welfare Association) are insecure, the rail, road and air lockdown has grounded distribution, businesses are shut down, we have been compelled to reduce print orders in all centres.”
On 10 April, Hindi News channel News Nation fired its entire English digital team of 15 journalists, despite the Narendra Modi government’s advisory urging public and private companies to not cut salaries or fire people during the lockdown.
A report by Newslaundry said the employees were neither given a notice of termination nor were they allowed to serve their notice period. Employees are being offered a month’s basic salary as severance. It also claimed that the News Nation editor-in-chief Manoj Gairola said: “The company is going through a financial crisis due to the pandemic so we have to do this.”
The Times of India has also allegedly sacked its entire Sunday magazine team. In a Facebook post, journalist Nona Walia claimed: “The entire team of Sunday magazine of Times of India asked to leave. Got a call from my boss Poonam Singh. Sacked after 24 years from a company I served with love for more than two decades. Wow.”
Moreover, about half the employees working at The Quint, a digital media website, have been sent on leave without pay. A newsroom note accessed by ThePrint stated: “We are forced to request you to proceed on a ‘furlough’ (ie, leave without pay, LWP) wef the 15th of April, until further notice. Your pay for the half-month, from April 1 through 15, shall be processed and released very soon.”
Hindustan Times Marathi will also allegedly close its operations from 30 April. However, this hasn’t been confirmed so far.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.