MEDIA IN A MESS .. In times of lockdown, with no ads, mayhem in the media — sackings, closure of editions galore


NEW DELHI: Newspaper industry, faced with the long-held lockdown and resultant loss of advertisement revenue, is in dire straits. Citing the large-scale retrenchment of journalist and non-journalist employees, the Indian Journalists’ Union complained in an editorial write-up that the Union Government is also ignoring the media. It said the stimulus package announced by the Centre does not have any mention of the media.

“Thousands of journalists have lost their livelihood across the country as the media -print, electronic and web – was thrown into an unprecedented crisis. The distribution networks were completely disrupted immediately after lockdown came into effect to fight the deadly corona pandemic. Within a week, the distribution of newspapers resumed but most of the subscribers cancelled their subscriptions from April, the statement said.

It said, “This was because, there were fake reports that the newspapers could be carriers of the virus, severely impacting the circulation of major newspapers. The advertisement revenue dried up to a trickle as industry and businesses across the country are under lockdown. Small and medium newspapers almost completely went out of business due to distribution network issues, rendering thousands of journalists jobless and income-less.”

“The major newspapers, in English and Indian languages, are using this as a pretext to retrench journalists and impose cut in their wages with scant regard for the laws of the land as state and central governments stand as mute witnesses,” the statement said.

It however noted, “The Prime Minister and the central government are on the record urging the employers not to retrench employees and pay them full wages but to no avail. Newspapers like The Times of India, Hindustan Times in English, Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran in Hindi, Eenadu and Sakshi in Telugu and several other major newspapers in other Indian languages, are resorting to laying off journalists without following the due process of law.”

“The finances of the media industry are under severe stress due to loss of circulation and advertisement revenue. But they made huge profits in the past years, and are now unwilling to sustain losses by dipping into their cash reserves and accumulated profits. The small and medium newspapers which cater to the local news and employ a large number of journalists are forced to close down due to loss of circulation and advertisement revenue,” it said.

The Union Government, which is giving stimulus packages to other sectors, completely ignored media industry. It is also doing precious little to prevent media managements from retrenching journalists. It is time the Union Government take stringent action against the media managements for retrenching journalists, and come to their rescue to save the jobs and industry, in the interest of democracy and freedom of the press, the statement complained.

In another article in Scribes News, a team of journalists led by its editor K Amarnath said journalists are facing a two-pronged attack, one from their employers- sacking them and cutting their wages- another from the deadly coronavirus from which hundreds tested positive. “Thousands of small and media newspapers were closed down rendering scores of thousands of working journalists redundant and jobless. The big newspapers have cut down the number of pages; Times of India and The Hindu, the Hindustan Times and the Telegraph which used have 32 to 44 pages on weekdays and 48 to 52 pages on Sundays are bringing out only 12 to 14 pages on all the days of the week.”

It said, “Most of them dispensed away their special supplements on weekends/days, and Sunday supplements too, ostensible because of a lack of advertisement support.

“The situation in the language media is worse. The major newspapers have cut down their pages drastically, leading to less coverage of news from the semi-urban and rural areas where they command pre-dominantly high circulation. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, major newspapers have drastically cut down their pages. They dispensed with district and city tabloids which used to have 12 to 16 pages covering local news. They merged their local news in the main edition, cutting the coverage by almost 70 to 75 per cent, starving the stringers network in the semi-urban and rural areas,” it said.

“It may be mentioned here that, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, major Telugu newspapers have about 20 thousand stringers spanning over about 1250 mandals (blocks). Most of the medium and small newspapers stopped printing their editions since the lockdown due to disruption in circulation network and lack of advertisement support making about a lakh journalist jobless across the country. A few of them are bringing out epapers to register their presence by copying news from the Internet and social media, making them vulnerable to fake and unverified news,” it said.

“All the journalists working in the local and small media did not receive their meagre salaries and remunerations in the case of stringers and part-time journalists, since March. Even the cash-rich and major media houses are resorting to retrenching the journalists or imposing cut in their wages.”
“The mighty Times of India, which claims to be the largest circulated English daily in the world, sacked several employees, by not renewing their contracts falling due on 30 March and after. It disbanded its Sunday magazine section and retrenched all the 24 journalists working there. The Hindustan Times and the Indian Express announced pay cuts ranging from 10 to 30 per cent. The situation in almost all the major English and language newspapers is the same, if not worse.

It said, “The situation in electronic and web media is no better. Several TV channels and internet media portals have either cut down their staff or imposed cut in wages. Most of the media houses have asked their journalist staff to go on leave without pay or use their accumulated leave. There are reports that hyperactive news channels, with a constant hunger to better their Television Rating Points (TRPs), have been pushing journalists to report from the ground, even in cases where the reporter is reluctant. In most cases, the reporters are on their own, with little to no support from the organisation.”

It said, “Hundreds of journalists across the country tested positive of the coronavirus and admitted into hospitals while covering the pandemic. Worst affected are from Maharashtra where 57 journalists tested positive, Tamilnadu where 27 employees of a TV channel tested positive on a single day. In Telangana 13 journalists in Mahbubnagar district tested positive and were quarantined. There were reports that several journalists tested positive in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, West Bengal, and other states. Most of those who tested positive are young reporters and camerapersons, who have been spending several hours every day reporting on the unprecedented impact of the novel coronavirus on people and the economy.

It said, “ In a recent survey conducted by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 77 countries, the vast majority of journalists lamented that the state of media freedom in their countries had got worse. From Greece to Indonesia and from Chad to Peru journalists used words such as precarious, problematic, terrible, worse, declining, and restricted to assess the media’s freedom environment. They cited job losses, longer hours, and fewer resources as obstacles to proper coverage of the pandemic. In many countries, the lack of social protection networks and fair employment practices are driving journalists to desperation.”

It quoted a respondent as saying, “Press freedom has become increasingly restrictive. Journalists have been arrested for reporting stories highlighting the government’s shortcomings”.

“Many journalists complained of increasing attacks on media freedom. Almost one in four journalists said they had faced growing difficulties accessing information from government or official sources. Many reported being verbally attacked by politicians. Others complained of restrictions on asking questions at press conferences and restrictions being imposed on the movement of journalists during the crisis, including the withdrawal of recognition of press cards. Some were worried that the total focus on pandemic related stories meant other important issues were being ignored.”

“Cases against journalists In India, several state governments including, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi filed cases against newsmen for their reportage.

“In Gujarat, the editor of the news website, Face of Nation, Dhaval Patel was detained under Disaster Managing Act for reporting that change of guard in the state government was on the anvil. It reported that the BJP central leadership was considering replacing Chief Minister Vijay Rupani with Rajya Sabha member Mansukh Mandaviya.

There were reports that FIRs were filed against six journalists in Himachal Pradesh for their reports questioning the preparedness of the authorities to face the crisis created by the pandemic. Some journalists were booked for reporting that there was confusion on the timings of the curfew hours and opening of the shops during the lockdown in the state announced by the authorities. A reporter was booked under the Disaster protest of some migrant labour for not getting rations in Solan district. In Delhi, the police summoned Indian Express reporter Mahender Singh Manral for his report that Tablighi Jamaat head Maulana Saad was purportedly heard asking his followers not to observe social distancing.

 They claimed the report was factually incorrect and purely conjectural imagination. The police notice said the reporter could face legal action amounting to fine and a jail term. The Indian Express stood by the story.

The media houses across the country ignored the advice of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an official advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs not to retrench staff and cut their wages. It is admitted that with a huge dip in circulation in the print media and loss of advertisement revenue across all platforms of the media, the existential crisis is staring in their face. Retrenchment of journalists at the first whiff of crisis, notwithstanding the profits they accumulated over the years, goes against the very existence of the media.”

“ The media management should realise they can sustain themselves by disseminating timely and verified news and views generated by professional journalists to fortify the morale of the people. Otherwise, they would lose credibility, thereby their readership and viewership. Stimulus Package for Media It is high time the Government of India assesses the financial crisis in the news media in the country.” 

“While the leaders of the government starting with the Prime Minister lauded the role of the media in the deadly fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the government did not include the media industry in its stimulus packages announced so far. The representative organisations of the working journalists in the country appealed to the government to bail out the media industry on one hand and take stringent action against the managements for retrenching the journalists. Their services are essential to arm the people with factual news and credible views to fight and win the war,” the article in Scribe News oncluded.”. IHN-NN


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