Hiring/Firing Journalists: Not For Political Convenience

by August 13, 2018 0 comments

Hiring or Firing Journalists Not For Political ConvenienceThe act of hiring and firing journalists, similar to electing and rejecting politicians, is a never-ending procedure. The decision to let employees go are a matter of the management, not for political convenience.

Any democracy has its four pillars on which it develops and progresses. The fourth pillar or the fourth estate has been the Press. However, with technology playing a crucial role in information dissemination, a ‘fifth estate’ appears to have arisen which is social media. Today, the discourse of this fifth estate is all about preaching morality and ethics on an event related to the fourth estate. The case has been made out regarding the resignation of senior television journalist from ABP News, a leading Hindi news channel, over the past week. Those who are casting aspersions on the Government have forgotten a basic rule: That media houses today are business entities and work in a corporate environment. The Government has a limited say in their running and only looks at policy matters.

Social media outrage at the separation of the journalists from their company is sought to be directed as a not-so-veiled attack on the Government. But one must look at the larger problem that’s facing the media fraternity. Every time the Government is targeted like this, it is a digression, because one is sweeping the more serious malice plaguing the media sector under the carpet. The ABP News matter should be seen as a matter between the management and its employee. India is still a republic and the media is by and large free from Government interference. All media groups, like any other business groups, are governed by the law and have been given the option of self-censorship as part of healthy democratic norms. Like it or not, any editorial, financial, administrative and business decision in media houses is part of a larger corporate decision-making process with the management and its top executives taken in consonance with that particular company’s corporate philosophy and targets they set themselves to achieve.

The ABP News incident has been projected as a case where the Government allegedly ‘forced’ the management to ease out the journalists who were exposing faults in Government policy. Till now, it’s only the redoubtable social media warriors who are shooting allegations and scooting. Media watchdogs such as Editor’s Guild in its statement and more vitally the Press Council of India have not provided any substantive or related information or complaint or evidence that Government had any role to play in this. If the journalists had any problems with their management, then they have organisational and/or legal platforms to seek redress for their grievances relating to any administrative or editorial policy decisions. Till now, everybody is just firing in the air and not seeking recourse to the law available.

The fact that the media houses are private entities and run businesses according to their corporate mandate has also been highlighted and upheld by the Supreme Court. The Court marked out this clear if thin red line in the Majithia Wage Board case, sending it to the various labour commissioners of respective States and asked for the wage board’s implementation to ensure that pay and work-related recommendations, and their corresponding benefits, are passed down to journalists and non-journalist employees of newspapers. The Court also stated that the pay, compensation and employment situation of employees in newspapers need to be sympathetically and humanely dealt with and State Governments must ensure that mediapersons get their dues. However, the Court also made it clear that media house managements can’t be forced to take on financial or employee burdens as a thumb rule. The financial condition of the media house shall also determine its ability to spend, including on human resources. It follows, therefore, that managements would be able to decide whom to hire or fire.

The kind of ghetto politics that many senior journalists are indulging in against the BJP Government is actually a beating around the bush tactic. I would have welcomed and wholeheartedly supported all the top guns if they would have used the same energy, unity and sense of purpose in ensuring the Majithia Wage Board recommendations were implemented in letter and spirit. I wish all senior mediapersons would show the same sense of understanding in trying to bridge issues between journalists and managements to find a solution as they are exhibiting in trying to find the link between the ABP News resignations and a so-called Government diktat.

I remember an old interview of eminent journalist Kuldeep Nayyar during the Emergency and the situation of the leading media houses. He remembered that Ramnath Goenka’s Indian Express and CR Irani’s The Statesman were the two media houses which took up the challenge of keeping the media as an independent voice. Journalists such as Arun Shourie, Coomi Kapoor and Minhaz Merchant were supported by their managements to run independently collated and factually correct reports. This was not a decision  prompted by a Government or a political guideline or a party interest. It was purely a decision of the management which gave full support to its editorial leadership. The same principles and management-editorial teamwork policies stand true even today whether our politics agrees with them or not.

When we see so many layoffs, financial bankruptcy and even untimely demise of both old and upcoming media houses, one is reminded that business is all about profit; the ability of many management-editorial teams is tested in its struggle to keep the company alive. Managements are free to save and protect the intellectual property that they have created. As in politics and so in journalism, politicians will come and go and so will journalists. Hiring and firing of journalists, just like the election and rejection of politicians, is a constant. Decisions to separate from particular employees are management decisions and not of political convenience. If senior journalists use their energy to fight the Government to ensure the ills which plague the media industry are weeded out, instead of an imaginary battle, it would be a great service not only to media fraternity but also for democracy.

(The writer is a BJP leader)

Writer: Sudhanshu Mittal

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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