Former information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari today called on the government to issue an advisory to media companies not to take advantage of the ongoing COVID-19 lock-down to lay off journalists and other employees.
The request comes in the wake of widespread reports on social media about lay-offs in various media houses.
“I am writing to you with reference to the recent retrenchment of fifteen journalists who were working in the English Digital Team of an esteemed Hindi News Channel,” Tewari said.
“Other journalists working in a number of media houses have apprised me of their apprehensions regarding retrenchments and delayed salaries also.”
“I believe it would be appropriate if the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting could issue an advisory to all Print, Electronic and Social Media platforms to not retrench their employees and to pay their salaries on time.”
He pointed out that it was inappropriate for these companies to indulge in such lay-offs simply because they have seen a dip in their revenue for three weeks due to the lock-down.
“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 3 weeks since the lockdown began,” he said, adding that such an advisory “be sent out at the earliest”.
Besides the TV channel mentioned by Tewari, journalists have pointed to similar plans or lay-offs at various other media outlets, including TV channels as well as print publications.
One of the biggest print publications in India has reportedly laid off the entire team of their Sunday edition.
“Got a call from my boss…Sacked after 24 years from a company I served with love for more than two decades,” said journalist Nona Walia on Twitter.
Another prominent news network, which often claims to be India’s biggest, has reportedly laid off six anchors, 11 cameramen and 19 reporters.
Similarly, another TV news network, which also publishes magazines, has prepared a list of 46 reporters, 6 cameramen and 17 producers who have been asked to leave the company immediately, according to employee sources.
A prominent financial daily has reportedly asked 50% of the staff of one of its supplements to go.
The Marathi edition of a prominent Delhi-based newspaper group has reportedly decided to shut down its operations and asked all the staff in the Marathi newspaper to go.
An upcoming business news channel, which has not been able to get a broadcasting license so far, has reportedly asked 50% of its staff to go on unpaid leave.
In addition to this, two other prominent newspapers have asked employees to take salary cuts of up to 50%.
Many media outlets have been seeing a declining trend in their revenue for the last two years due to a general slow-down in the economy.
The COVID-19 lockdown, which has impacted both circulation/subscription as well as advertisement revenue, has given an impetus for these companies to bring down their headcounts in line with their revenue.
Besides, a secular decline in the popularity of legacy media, including TV news channels as well as print publications, has also led to a huge disruption in the sector.
Traditional media outlets are either getting disintermediated as creators of news bypass traditional media to reach out to their audiences and fans via social media, or are getting replaced by digital media, including apps and online websites.
Some newspaper owners have already started asking for a ‘package’ from the government to help them tide over the difficulties of the COVID-19 lockdown.