June 29, 2014

Plight of Employees in Media Houses Exposed


ON June 24, 2014, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and its Gender Council (GC) noted with deep concern the deteriorating work environment in media houses, particularly TV channels, which stands exposed by the attempted suicide of a woman TV anchor on the premises of India TV. Behind the glamour projected by the TV industry, the DUJ noted, there lies the grim story of abysmal employment practices, 24/7 working hours, high pressure deadlines, arbitrary contracts, and hire and fire practices. On the day, the DUJ also approached the union minister of state for information and broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, in this regard and reiterated its long standing demand that the Working Journalists Act must be extended to the entire news media including the electronic media which lacks all regulations. In particular, the DUJ Gender Council pointed out, women employees, who are especially vulnerable to a variety of pressures, need greater protection of labour laws and regulations. Strong measures need to be urgently taken to prevent the harassment at the workplaces. The DUJ has demanded a rollback of insecure contract employment which is frequently used to threaten and harass the media employees. It also demanded institutionalisation of transparent and fair managerial practices in the mushrooming TV industry and the introduction of proper human resource policies. The arbitrary termination of the India TV anchor, by treating an SMS to a senior as a resignation letter, exposes the lack of professionalism in the channel’s managerial practices.    The DUJ called upon senior journalists in managerial positions to be more sensitive and empathetic in their dealings with co-professionals, howsoever junior they may be. It is their duty to mentor and support younger colleagues, not to harass or exploit them. It is unfortunately evident from the India TV episode that seniors misused their position to push a young woman to the edge. Lastly, the DUJ condemned the blacking out of the suicide episode by most TV channels as a regrettable expression of managerial solidarity. A suicide attempt by a Page 3 person or actor would have been headline news on all the channels for days at a stretch. The DUJ statement issued on the day by its president Ms Sujata Madhok and general secretary S K Pandey asked: Was this attempted suicide too close to home to make news? Should the media not scrutinise its own face in the mirror? PUNISH THE GUILTY: AIDWA On the same day, the Delhi state committee of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) also took a serious note of the news of a TV journalist having attempted suicide, reportedly due to harassment at a private news channel where she was employed. According to the media sources, the victim consumed a heavy dosage of poison on June 22 near her office premises in NOIDA. She had also mentioned in her suicide note, apparently posted on a social networking site, that she was being harassed by her superiors, while naming some of those responsible for driving her to take this extreme step. The AIDWA has demanded that all those responsible should be booked under appropriate sections and immediate action should be taken against them. The AIDWA also noted that under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, all employers are bound under the law to form an internal complaints committee in their offices. However, each case of harassment of female employee at a media house only exposes the fact that such committees are still not in place. The AIDWA has demands that the central government take strict cognisance of the matter and ensure that internal complaints committees are immediately constituted in all workplaces. The ministry of women and child development should monitor the implementation of this important act. ‘DO NOT DUMP RADIO JOCKEYS’ Earlier, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and Delhi Press Initiative (DPI) have expressed a sense of regret over the arbitrary move by the Prasar Bharati to dismiss all radio jockeys who are on contract basis, simply because they have crossed the age of 35 years. The two organisations said that this move was a discriminatory ageism and must be stopped. The employees of All India Radio’s FM Gold and Rainbow channels, who are facing the immediate threat, must be protected from this arbitrary ceiling on their employment.  The DUJ-DPI statement issued from New Delhi on June 23 said the Prasar Bharati, as a public sector employer, should set good labour standards instead of resorting to contract employment and discriminating against those who have served it loyally over the years. The statement also noted with concern the growing tendency among private media groups to dismiss employees as they grow older, by misusing contract employment laws, in order to replace them with younger and cheaper workers.  The DUJ and DPI have urged upon the Prasar Bharati to reconsider its ill-advised move against its vulnerable professional employees who bring both maturity and experience to their challenging job. The DUJ and DPI also extended solidarity with the historic struggle being waged by the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) against the four years undergraduate programme (FYUP) despite heavy odds and threats of victimisation.