Massacre of Newspersons

Massacre of Newspersons

Dusts have not settled yet. The sacking and firing of hired hands in the Fourth Estate are not coming to an end. Everybody there is a sacrificial lamb. The noble profession of journalism has turned into a hotbed of intrigues, fear, suspicion and a sense of helplessness has gripped almost all in the desk and on the field. The journalists are pushed on the firing line by the power that be, by the Press Barons.


The premier organization in the East, Ananda Bazar (ABP) Group, has already given marching orders to unknown numbers of scribes. It is feared that a total of 760 employees there would see the end of journey because the management feels that the organization has become too flabby and a trimming operation is inescapable. Result: terminate the employees. Already some 250 of them has suffered with early retirement or just given the lethal marching orders.

Almost all outstation correspondents were dispensable elements and are gone too easily. The mainstays in the centre of publications are selectively asked to put in their papers at the whims of the management. They had to resign even before the end of their terms.


Hindustan Times has just pulled down their shutters of the Kolkata and outside offices at Ranchi, Bhopal & Indore. The employees of the centres are asked to go or transferred indiscriminately. Only a fitful of them is still holding on, precariously.  The Big Brother in the industry is not serving any notices but cost-cutting in the form of variable component diminution is in the offing for some time.


The Indian Express did it earlier. In the vernacular Bengali, Hindi and Urdu newspapers less hiring and more firing are order of the day.


Before the current job-cutting ventures in the mainstream print media the city and the State of West Bengal has seen the birth and death of plethora of newspapers and news channels in the heydays of chit funds.


I.J.A. is grievously aware of that there exists a Byers’ market in the newspaper (and news channel) industry. There had always been a Byers’ market. There are few employers and budding journalists are too many. In the minds of the existing employees are always instilled in a sense of insecurity by management-inspired stories of cost-prohibitive surplus staff.


The journalists and other employees desperately sought some kind of protection, to avoid becoming mercy-prayers when news dissemination became an industry, post-independence. Journalism ceased to be a mission by that time.


It was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, who saw how vulnerable the journalists were. During his regime protection came to the Journalists. The Central Government enacted The Working Journalists (Condition of Service) and Miscellaneous Provision Act, 1955. The newspaper came under regulation, much to the discomfiture of the Press Barons. The newspaper owners were put under law. They had to abide by the law-defined job descriptions, duty hours, scales of pay and their upward revisions for the benefit of the journalists. The general system of standing orders had to be drafted in every establishment with the consent of the employees defining tenure of service, retirement age etc.


For a long period after enactment of the journalists’ Act, the Government at the centre and the states kept close watch on its implementation and practice. The law made journalists (industrial) workmen. They came under other related laws like Industrial Disputes Act, Shops and Establishment Act. The Journalists were made aware, unfortunately for some of them, that as workmen (not executives) they were wage earners (not salaried persons), their wages are defined, they are to retire after a defined period etc. There cannot be any wage-cut, there cannot be any termination of service sans proper procedure. And other forms of protective measures served the journalists from the whims of the Press Barons.


Of course, the Press Barons sometimes in the past succeeded to sidetrack the laws with some profit-motivated journalists willing to accept jobs under various terms like contractual employment, company scales etc. But they were few and far between.


Deregulation wave at the end of the last century opened the floodgates. Big Brother led, other followed. The print media owners in their respective organizations scrapped Journalists’ Act, Wage Board Awards, job definitions and the like in their respective organizations and prospered. At the cost of the Journalists and other employees. The Governments did not help either. I.J.A wrote to the State Government to supervise the implementation of Majethia Awards but in vain.


I.J.A. protested. I. J. A. warned. But prospects of fat salary and attractive purse lured away the journalists from the Journalists’ Act. i.e. out of the purview of the Wage Board. Compensation package, Company scare, Contribution honorariums etc. under contractual system became the order of the day. Scales of pay, service period and things like that had been done away with.


The most unfortunate part of the story is that there were hardly any journalists, new comers or seniors in the profession, who cared to heed I.J.A. advice to resist this move. Fat salary apart, job seekers and existing journalists felt they would get better under contractual system and forgot the wage board. The newspaper owners have now complete control over the industry. There are practically no workmen. The journalists in the industry are now full of advisers, officer, executives and contributors.   They are practising journalists but they are no more working journalists. They become expendable which is what happening in our State. They are always at the receiving end. They cannot ask for any redressal when one fine morning they are asked to go without giving them any reasons whatsoever. Period.


The Journalists fought hard in the early 50s to gain an Act, which gave them enough protection and self-respect.  The journalists are losing that protective armour because the employers are stronger now, the governments are indifferent and the journalists feel free of any label of workmen.


A Job is the property of an employee


Economist, Journalist, Professor and management think, Peter Drucker, did not like to be characterised as a Management Guru. But his thinking and publications influenced the thinking and management practices worldwide. Ducker was indeed a business philosopher whose ideas have been so widely embraced that they have become commonplace. In his Seminal book “The New Realities” Drucker has stated clearly that a job is the property of an employee, provided by the employers though. The job cannot be taken away just like that.


Excerpts from the book:


In earlier pluralist societies, individuals were expendable. The institution did not depend on them. Whether peasants or workers, individuals had no bargaining power; to quote Marx, they were the “industrial reserve army” and industrial cannon fodder. The new pluralist institutions of society are, however, organizations of “knowledge workers.” Knowledge workers have mobility. They are “colleagues.” They have both social and economic status. They enjoy the bargaining power that results from social equality and from being economically essential. Thus we will have to think through and redefine both the rights and the responsibilities of the knowledge worker in pluralist society and in its institutions.


The job of the individual will become a property right. We have, in fact, already gone quite far in that direction. American courts now regularly hold that employees, and especially managers, professionals, and technologists, have a right in their job even if there is no specific contract or tenure. This right can only be diminished or taken away by dismissal for specific reasons and with “due process.” The courts hold, in other words, that the job has to be treated as a species of property. This is not ‘radical’, but a conservative position. Whatever gives access to livelihood, status, and position in society has been considered property, since the Roman lawyers more than two thousand years ago first defined the term.


For the great majority of people in developed societies, and especially for the overwhelming majority of educated men and women, access to a livelihood requires a job in one of the new pluralist institutions. For the great majority the job also defines their position in society. The only access most people have to a little capital and financial independence is through the pension fund of the institution that employs them. For the great majority, in other words, property is what the job provides, if not the job itself. Every employing institution can therefore expect that it will be able to deprive people of their jobs only if it observes the rules that have always governed property. To deprive anyone of his or her job — or to diminish it — the institution must act according to pre-set standards, especially standards or performance. These must be uniformly applied and must be public. And increasingly, the employer will have to bear the burden of proof that it judges and rewards people against these standards. The employer will also have to satisfy requirements of “due process” in depriving individuals of their job or even in diminishing their job, for example, through a demotion, a cut in salary, perhaps even a job assignment that represents a cut in status and position. This means formal warning, proper review, and the right to appeal.


At the same time — in sharp contrast to the position of the individual in any earlier pluralism — the individual will have the right to move freely. Even in Japan, despite the tradition of “lifetime commitment”, knowledge workers now have increasing mobility as long as they observe ritual courtesies. The employer rather than the employee is committee — as befits the shift in their respective bargaining power. The knowledge worker needs a job, to be sure. But only in a genuine and long-lasting depression does the knowledge worker need a job more than the employer needs to knowledge worker.


Struggle for Justice

A few cases


As the newspersons’ trade union body I.J.A. fought many a battle for protection of rights, security and status of the journalists. For every such occasion I.J.A. espouses the just and legitimate cause of the victims in the fraternity after I.J.A has received specific requests to intervene on their behalf.

Regarding closed Jugantar and Amrita Bazar Patrika, it may be mentioned, that these newspapers had gone under suspension of work (virtually closed) since 18 February 1996. At that point dues to the employees were portions of salaries, fringe benefits, bonus, gratuity and Provident Fund. Finding no move to settle their dues I.J.A. had requested the then Finance Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, and his Union Cabinet colleague,  Mr. Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, to intervene in the matter. Because of their initiatives PF was recovered benefiting the employees. Even after that a total of Rs. 9 crore worth of gratuity was not paid to the employees. Debt Recovery Tribunal-1, Kolkata, was moved by I.J.A. along with other unions and individuals. The Tribunal declared an Award that each of these employees would have to be paid 75 per cent of principal amount along with interest.


This was a path-breaking struggle as hardly any closed-down units in the State paid up the dues of their employees. Exception was the Amrita Bazar-Jugantar establishment. This was possible through long, sustained, united struggle by the journalists and other employees. I.J.A. was a participant.


I.J.A. had successfully challenged at Calcutta High court the en masse transfer order of the journalists of the Dainik Basumati in 1992 from Kolkata to Siliguri. The transfer order was annulled. Subsequently in 1995 the State Government-managed Basumati authorities ordered the change of service conditions of “blacklisted” (I.J.A. member) journalists. At the High Court again the order was impugned and move to degrade the journalists into the category of non-journalists was scuttled.


I.J.A. painstakingly pursued the case of dismissed and retrenched working journalists of Aakbar-E-Mashrique for 14 years from 1986. The Labour Tribunal finally ordered reinstatement of these journalists. The management then came to an out of court settlement and paid them fair compensation in exchange of their surrendering job rights.


Aabshar (Urdu Daily) newspaper arbitrarily terminated services of some journalists though the hapless newspersons have long years left to complete their service periods. They were told the newspaper was being closed and hence the decision. This was not true and the newspaper continued to publish. I.J.A. made a representation to Labour Minister, Mr. Malay Ghatak, who referred the matter to the Labour Directorate. The Labour Commissioner called the management to explain the undeclared denial of employment of the complainants. The dispute remains to be disposed of.


After Sarada Group gave up ownership of the newspaper Dainik Azad Hind (Urdu Daily) the new management dispensed with the services of four journalists without paying up their full wages. These four journalists approached our Association and I.J.A. asked the new management to pay them up.


An Overview


A new situation has arrived in the news world. Digitalization seems to have threatened the print and electronic media in different ways. Indeed this is the devil of automation. Those who own automation sector are eager to get works done with minimum involvement of human agencies. Web portals and things like that are now coming up in increasing numbers which make people to depend less on newspapers and news channels as days go by.

I.J.A. is quite aware that the needs of people to get information will not be met by invasion of all these new invention. I.J.A. has to concentrate on all the issues that affect the newspersons and the industry as a whole. That, we believe, will help us to serve our purpose now and in the future.

I.J.A. is all along fighting for higher wages and other benefits including Pension Schemes as the third retirement benefit, higher rate of gratuity, bonus and house rent, appropriate medical and traveling benefits etc. to ensure a decent living for the Working Journalists.

I.J.A. is always opposed to the appointment of Working Journalists on contract, now in vogue in different newspapers, and the recent development of transferring Working Journalists to the posts of non Journalists. It wants a suitable amendment of the Working Journalists’ Act to protect the Working Journalists from the hire-and-fire strategy of the employer.

I.J.A. has been working in different fields, keeping in mind the interests of the Journalists. It is determined to uphold professional interests of the Journalists. It will continue with both combative and constructive roles as in the past.

In the current scenario, journalism has traversed a long way from the days of the pre-Independence era. That was the time when nationalists-to-core distinguished sons and daughters of India took up journalism as an important vehicle to propagate the freedom of the country. Indian Journalists’ Association was born to meet the need.


Since then journalism has emerged as an important, noble profession, as a matter of course. May we take indulgence, in this context, that journalists aspire to be the unelected representatives of the people? Journalists disseminate information of the people, for the people, by the people and to the people. Information is strength. People invested with information will ascend to a higher quality of life. The quality of life is measured by certain tangible and certain intangible elements. Information is intangible in the sense that it is not perceptible by touch but clearly intelligible. Followed these are the distilled opinions that are expressed in newspapers.

At this critical hour, we admit, there have some occurrences of aberration giving rise to suggestion that the Press needs to be regulated. We firmly believe that Press is best served by self-regulation. There are enough competent newspersons to impose their authority to prevent their fraternity from entertaining any misinformation, disinformation in newspapers and media in general. We firmly state that “paid news” is a curse and has to be discarded forthwith. Your valued opinion is earnestly solicited in this regard.

Inherent contradiction between proprietors and working journalists is inescapable. Jawaharlal Nehru, as the Prime Minister, introduced certain important measures that fairly balanced the employer-employee relations. We shall be highly disappointed if this balance is upset.

Small newspapers and the mainstay of information-gathering and disseminating, mostly far away from the city centres. Their precarious existence is a matter of concern. Deprived of financial strength these small newspapers often survive because of dedicated commitment of their creators. Once these small newspapers were great help to the people. Now we are groping in the dark as to their vitality and viability.

The Association has traversed a long journey. Much has been done, while many more useful things still remain undone, for which unity and solidarity among the journalists are necessary.

I.J.A. Wants

— Fair Deal for Journalists

— Quash the Contract System

— End Buyers’ Market Tyranny

— Government Must Act

— Abide By the Journalists’ Act

— Stop Blanket Deregulation in Media Sector

— Universal Benefit of Fair Wage, Tenure of Service, Conducive Work Culture

— Equity in Support for Small Newspapers in Districts

I.J.A. Reminds

— Journalists Need Fraternal Cooperation more than Fratricidal Competition

— United Action Must in Times of Crisis

Dated: 26 March 2017