People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 5

February 08, 2009


And Now Target Journalists

S K Pande

THE Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has called for a united front of all journalists and press unions for a consorted fight to check the menace of mass coercive dismissals and retrenchments in the newspaper industry in the country and now spreading manifold even in Delhi. Side by side it has called upon the government of India and the Delhi state government to intervene immediately to stall unfair labour practices while the wage board was in motion.

Following a decision on the emergency meeting of the executive attended by some victims, the DUJ in separate letters to the prime minister, Labour minister and the Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit has called for immediate action to save journalism from bondage.

The DUJ has charged that in one newspaper group, more than 500 media persons including 100 journalists were on the roads, victims of clear unfair labour practices with unions who protest receiving threats from various authorities including the police and its departments in the last five years.

The DUJ president, S K Pande said that an action committee with press persons associated with its press initiative 2008 was being expanded next week for all forms of action including direct action. The central cabinet is being informed of the grave situation, he added. A DUJ coordination committee with trade unions was also being constituted for the first time since the 80ís he added. Meanwhile the all India confederation of newspaper and news agencies has also taken special note of the situation. The International Federation of journalists with its headquarters in Brazil has also been informed of the present situation.

A massive dismissal of journalists- even contract journalists has begun- leaving the few left speculating 24/7 when they would get the sack or be transferred or humiliated. Earlier, it was period of killing the wage board by sacking some and putting some on contract and transferring others to humiliating postings. Under the cloak of recession after targeting of press workers and select scribes it is now more specific, get rid of the bulk of contract journalists and target the seniors.

The Hindustan Times headed by a Padmasri and Rajya Sabha member, has set a new record. While the disease of mass retrenchment in the press had begun more than five years ago with the Hindustan Times group creating a new record on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, this year, just a few days before the 60th anniversary of the Indian Republic right here in Delhi the capital of India, the same Hindustan Times Group has created a new record in getting rid of the bulk of journalists from Hindustan Times and the Hindustan with cases also trickling in from the Times of India group and some of the new newspapers and journals trying to make their debut in Delhi. The Hindustan Times Group has a long history of the anti-labour practices that peaked about five years ago when over 350 non-journalists and some 50 journalists were thrown out of job overnight. The matter was taken up in the parliament by the Left parties and the CPI(M) in particular.

Following the HT wave of retrenchment five years ago, now newspapers all over India have launched a massive dismissal of journalists and other employees, giving the excuse of the recession hitting their revenue. Topping all these newspapers is the HT Group that has removed more than 100 journalists and other employees in just one fortnight in January. This is being done ironically when it is again opening new editions such as in Allahabad and Uttaranchal and news syndicates of part timers on a pittance.

From some time, the management is forcing all journalists and non-journalists in The HT Group and are indulging in the same type of malpractices for which Satyam is in the news these days. It has been forming companies after companies and shifting employees from one company to another without obtaining their consent or completing the legal formalities, so as to indulge in fudging of accounts and escape the statutory obligations. Even back dated contracts are allegedly got under coercion and some transferred to nonexistent postings.

The malpractice of shifting the regular employees as contract labour is now not limited to only HT and TOI groups but it has also spread across the newspaper industry as a tool to scuttle the statutory wage board awards and that too under the very nose of the government which has shut its eyes and rather encourages the malpractices instead of taking action against them.

Similar gunpoint sacking of the senior journalists and other reporters is going on in various centres of Hindustan like Lucknow, Patna, Dehradun, Ranchi, Banaras, Muzaffarpur, Meerut, Kanpur and Agra. Those victimised in this manner include 15 from Patna, five each from Lucknow and Kanpur, six from Dehradun, three in Banaras, two each in Ranchi, Muzaffarpur and Agra.

The same kind of malpractice is being followed in the groupís other newspaper, Mint. The latest to be thrown out is a senior correspondent in Ahmedabad who was asked to fly to Delhi for an official meeting and forced to resign as soon as he arrived.

This kind of malpractice is also going on in the TOI group, Bhaskar Group even Sakal-and other newspapers across the country. All are making the excuse of the shrinking advertisement revenue due to the recession. The government is in the know of this development, but its anti-labour attitude is blatant in not taking any action.

The information about the shocking hire-and-fire adopted in the newspaper industry does not get to the public as the newspapers have made it a policy to black out all news about ill treatment to journalists and other employees. And in one case even as a code of conduct exists on news to be blacked out pertaining to the press.

While the guessing game goes on as to what next, the 24x7 channels are not left untouched. Even joint ventures of two major newspaper groups have wound up some of their units. All this is happening when executives are mushrooming. Salaries vary from a couple of lakhs to much more. All this, for masterminding the tactics of sacking journalists by the dozen under coercion and cooking accounts and floating new companies.