Having been a journalist for 12 years, I had never thought someday this profession which comes with a passion will not value its true soldiers! Seeing the recent layoffs of sincere and hardworking journalists in Chandigarh media has left everyone stunned.
The day I got to hear about some prominent journalists having been sent home, it came as a shock, especially since it all started with Hindustan Times, a publication where I had put in 11 years of my life. Soon, other prominent publications also followed the suit and what came were huge salary cuts in some cases and forced resignations in others.
What was painful was the way they were asked to leave. Those who were sacrificing their family life to gather quality content for their organisation were called, asked to sign their resignations and go home with a meagre two-month salary, not enough to even survive for a month, especially for those having families.
One young journalist had just started his family after having been blessed with a baby girl a couple of days before he was shown the door, while another senior correspondent who had spent his lifetime reporting for the paper was bid goodbye.
Was COVID just an excuse for the majority of publications who had been doing crores worth business for all this while and suddenly three months of lockdown made them so deprived of funds that they could not even value the contribution of their journalists who had brought the papers to a level they are today?
Idrees Bukhtiyar, who was a correspondent with Hindustan Times says, “It is a really tough time for a journalist when they are being asked to resign from their jobs when they need it the most. I believe that it’s not fair but indeed an injustice. Journalists too have a heart, are humans, and suffer as well like others. Is this what media houses are allowed to do with their loyal reporters/desks to whom they have trusted over years under government’s noose? The government must provide a package to the media industry so that they can sustain the troubled times and jobs of the Journalist can be saved.”
Another senior journalist from Chandigarh who lost his job on condition of anonymity says, “Losing a job was an awful experience. On top of it came during a pandemic and I was surprised media companies could not survive for a few months despite earning profits for the year. Centre must formulate rules safeguarding the livelihood of journalists.”
Meanwhile, K.V. Lakshmana, a senior journalist who has worked with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times says, “Newsgathering and news production is not like an everyday business where a product is made and sold but is much more than that. Sadly, from a movement during freedom struggle it degenerated into a business and today it is nothing but a vehicle for wealth creation of its owners and management. But at the first whiff of trouble, as the Indian economy began dropping down long before COVID, media managements began indiscriminate sacking of employees. And more tragic sackings are being done in the worst form possible with crude and brute force against the helpless employers. Like in HT Mint a senior editor was sacked via WhatsApp Message. Humiliation and stress is the reward for loyalty, many media colleagues lamented in conversations with me”.
Arsh Behal, a Senior Editor with an American website, formerly worked with The Times of India, Chandigarh, says, “The pandemic, along with ravaging people’s lives and ripping families apart has also ravaged millions of careers and has cost countless jobs. One of the worst-hit sections of these employees has been journalists and media professionals who despite the already flagging job market, have had to deal with lay-offs in the worst possible manner. The stakeholders have chosen to release people free at a time when a constant source of income is the only source of motivation one can hold on to. Layoffs have been particularly heartless in the print media but, the process of evicting journalists from TV newsrooms is not smaller as well. Numerous platforms like The Quint, among others, which began from pay cuts of a certain percentage of the salary have asked people to leave without notice and any prior intimation.”
He adds, “Journalists, by the very nature of this industry, suffer from various kinds of inadequacies consistent with zero job security, irregular paycheques, lack of incentives etc. But, the current response of media organisations towards the journalistic fraternity has been heartbreaking. When a bejewelled, multi-millionaire company like The Times of India can ask its employees from the magazine section to leave, the apathy runs deep and violent. There should be rules to protect the rights of journalists and make sure in events of job losses, the awarded severance money should not be less than 3 months. There should be ample accountability attached to ruthless firing by private media companies and the trimming shall be justified. The government should announce relief for laid-off media staff and maybe adopt the British method of including a media cess in taxes that will enable organisations to stay afloat even at the time of crisis and absence of monetary inflow.”
ILLUSTRATIONS: DALJEET KAUR SANDHU