9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism

The recommendations of the Majithia wage board for working journalists and “other newspaper employees” has set the proverbial cat among the paper tigers. The industry body, Indian Newspaper Society (INS), has come out all guns blazing. It has called the wage board “an arbitary and undemocratic institution”, whose recommendations are designed to stifle media freedom.

The chairman of one prominent newspaper group, with a journalistic strength of 400 out of a workforce of 1,200, has told churumuri.com his company will be in loss “from day one” if he implements the proposed wage hike rumoured to be in the 80-100% range.

“There is no way I’ll will go ahead, even if it means fighting to the very end,” says the media baron.

The Times of India, which was slightly more sympathetic of previous wage boards because of the pressure of unions, has mounted a full-throated campaign against the Majithia wage board since it appears even “contract employees” (which is what most ToI journalists are) couldcome under the nomenclature of “other newspaper employees”.

But ToI seems to be a lone-ranger in this fight. Few of the other 1,017 members of INS have shown the same alacrity on their pages; even fewer have run INS chairman Kundan R. Vyas‘ article enunciating the opposition or the INS ad.

Here, in response to Sharanya Kanvilkar‘s article slamming proprietors, promoters and publishers for waking up only when it suits them, a newspaper baron (whose group has a “board-plus” wage policy) lists nine reasons why the Majithia wage board recommendations are injurious to the health of newspapers and indeed to journalists silently exulting over the plight of their masters:

***

1) It is asked every time, it must be asked again. And again: why do we have a wage board only for newspapers? The first board was constituted in 1955 when government-owned All India Radio (AIR) was the only mass medium, and Nehruvian India justly feared that private newspaper barons could exploit journalists. But in 21st century post-reforms India?

If it is right that wages must be protected in the private sector, why should the government only start and stop at newspapers? What about all the other ‘poor souls’ in other media sectors, like TV or the internet?

Or the IT or automotive industries?

2) The quantum of hike in wages recommended by the Majithia board conveys the wrong impression that journalists and other newspaper employees are poorly paid at present. This is far from the truth.

Only one of every 10 journalists I meet complains of low wages and even she is not looking for a 80-100% jump.

The Times of India, most of whose journalists are currently on contract with a higher CTC than wage board journalists, pays the best wages in the country. Yet the fact that it is at the forefront of the campaign against the Majithia wage board recommendations shows that it is not the fear of losing money that is motivating the Old Lady of Boribunder.

This is about media freedom.

3) Every source of income and outgo in the newspaper industry is dictated by market forces. Newsprint costs, cover price, distributor and hawker commission, advertisement rates, etc, are all decided by market forces over which we have little or no control.

Yet, on the issue of wages and wages alone, the government wants to step in and play minder. Why? It is entirely logical that the government wants to be seen as a friend of journalists. But it is entirely illogical that independent journalists should want to see the government as a friend.

It is, of course, entirely nonsensical if you consider the fact that many industries cut salaries in bad times like 2008-09, and restore it when the times are better, but newspapers who are exposed to the same financial and commercial pressures, somehow cannot.

Why?

4) The wage board is within its rights to recommend a minimum starting salary for journalists, but everything that happens after a journalist joins a newspaper should be the prerogative of the management and editorial leadership.

On the other hand, the Majithia board, by recommending salary scales with a built-in annual hike and time-bound promotions, seeks to reward complacency, mediocrity and under-performance while giving efficiency, talent and meritocracy the back seat.

Do journalists want that situation?

5) The wage board has no business to fiddle with things that is none of its business. For example: scanner operators, who perform a mechanical function no different from peons taking photocopies, were classified as journalists by the previous wage board. Why?

The Majithia board also exceeds its brief and recommends a retirement age of 65 for journalists, when the government retires its staff at between 58 and 62 years.

Add to this the fact that the working journalists Act stipulates that journalists are expected to work for just six hours a day. Do professionals in any other industry enjoy this grand privilege while being guaranteed a 80-100% wage hike, annual increments, time-bound promotions and an enhanced retirement age, sans accountability?

6) Even the Union labour minister will admit that three out of four newspapers in the country have not implemented many earlier wage board recommendations, and it is in such newspapers that the majority of poorly-paid journalists work.

The chances of such recalcitrant newspapers implementing the draconian recommendations of the Majithia board are remote, if not impossible. So after so many wage boards, what is the government’s trackrecord in reaching fair wages to journalists, the majority of whom slave away in organisations which do not implement wage board recommendations?

7) Given that historical record, the Majithia board looks set to punish groups that have successfully implemented previous wage board recommendations for decades. This gives an unfair advantage to new entrants and start-ups which blithely refuse to do so.

By working with the workers’ union, my newspaper has had a “board-plus” wage policy, in which we pay what the board recommends plus something extra that we can afford. This has worked for both sides very well. Does it make sense to impose the new wage board on groups like ours, while turning a blind eye on groups which have consistently refused to implement previous wage boards?

By keeping their wage bill unnaturally low, such groups find it easy to chip into older players with greater ethical concern for the wellbeing of journalists.

8) Over the years, the government has disbanded wage boards in all other industries, but it has not and still does not have the courage to disband the wage board for journalists.

This shows clearly that though the government agrees that wage boards have lost their relevance and usefulness in the modern economy, they are sucking up to journalists by keeping their wage board alive.

Or are they simply scared of them?

9) Those arguing for a wage board for journalists contend that that TV journalists are better paid. If that is true, as it perhaps is, then it is also true that this has happened without a wage board.

Can we then logically conclude that print journalists and others will be better paid without a wage board?

And one last point: by forcing newspapers into implementing the wage board recommendations, is the government willy-nilly pushing us to use ‘paid news’ as a source of additional revenue to meet the demands of the new wage bill?

Or, worse, by worming their way into the hearts of journalists with these unrealistic proposals, is the government buying good coverage at the expense of proprietors, promoters and publishers?

Also read: Media barons wake up together, sing same song

INS: “We reject wage board recommendations”

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9 Responses to “9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism”

  1. Objectivist Mantra Says:

    We had thought that Manmohan Singh would be a reformist PM, instead under his rule we have seen the powers of the government expand to monstrous levels. That is why we are having so much corruption an ineffciency in our society.

    BIG Government (socialism) = corruption + inefficiency + price rise.

    Now the government has started targetting the media. Because the private media is one institution that can expose the elitism, the hypocrisies and the venality that lie at the root of Indian socialism. Perhaps the media should organise a Fast Unto Death (FUD) to protest such useless wage board recommendations.

    This is one FUD that I will have no problem in joining. And I can assure my friends that I will be able to faster longer than one famous yoga guru and other civil society crusader. Yeah, right.

  2. Deepak Says:

    Every single attempt to muzzle the press has come from the Congress time and again, yet the media calls BJP as fundamentalist and Congress as liberal.

    Enjoy the liberal Govt. folks. Wonder if Sonia acolytes like Prannoy Roy and Co. will realise the truth atleast now….

  3. Ramdas Says:

    It is high time Newspaper owners share the big profit with their staff in view of the good revenue from the advertising industry. By not paying well their staff the journalists are prone to fall before big corporate and politicians.

  4. dhaval Says:

    It is a myth that Times of India pays the best wages in the country. Their payscale is best only for the Marwadis not for employees. They pay only of there is no other go. In ToI Bangalore more than 27 journalists left in one year and the main reason was low wages. They also introduced a cut down the salaries during the time of recession. In reality ToI group was never affected by recession. They only too benefit of the situation and ditched the journalists (not those top brass employees called themselves the ‘editors’ who safegurd their position by making their subordinates work for lower salaries).

  5. Narayana Says:

    Hard to believe that TOI pays top salaries! Their on-line edition is full of grammar and spell mistakes!!

  6. Mysore Peshva Says:

    The INS has a selfish motivation that has little to do with protecting freedom of the press or enhancing democracy.

    But I do concur with the INS conclusion.

    The government should have no business dictating wages in this, or any other, specific industry. That is the job of unions.

    The government’s role should panoramic, perhaps as follows:

    1. Protect unions by providing an effective judiciary; enable unions to represent their members equitably and to mediate with managements fairly
    2. Enforce the national minimum wage for all workers (for all, and not just for journalists)
    2. Enforce benefits, such as health coverage, vested retirement saving, and disability insurance

  7. Naresh Khanna Says:

    Publishers of daily newspapers should also talk about the subsidy that government seems to be supplying to them vis a vis government advertising from public sector companies and by various government agencies. My rough guess is that the amount of government advertising to daily newspapers could easily be in the region of Rs. 7,500 crore, annually. Then there is the giving of land for newspaper offices and printing plants at subsidised rates and the zero duty on newsprint and the minimal customs duty of something like 3 or 5% on imported newspaper presses with a speed of more than 70,000 copies an hour. What about the allocation of prime metro land for press clubs? It is clear that the Indian states pampers both the newspaper publishers and the journalists and that both will have to wean themselves away from this dependence in the long run as the taxpaying and other constituencies find both articulate reason and amplification of their voices.

  8. Supreeth Says:

    @Narayana: Indian Express, ToI, HT’s and other online teams consists of either DATA ENTRY OPERATORS or Fresher Journalists. The Online team is little scrutinized for errors, are forced to upload around a minimum of 80 stories and paid bloody 10-12K. Add to this, that the leaves are normally on paper and you have to really rub your soles off to get a leave. The social security is a ‘dream’ for these CONTRACTUAL employees as they are constantly made to work under the fear of being thrown out or pushed to the night shifts for years.
    Let me bring to the notice, an Indian Express Employee passed away after suffering from stress. Not a single EDITOR went to meet him when he was bed ridden. The HR was equally non-humane. This is what the journalists are suffering from. Higher wages is not what they want, but humane treatment.

  9. balaji Says:

    In response to the article “9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism” the article is only highlighting its favorable points and safely forgetting its weaknesses under the carpet.
    1) At the first instance this wage board was constituted by the Govt only in 2007 after the lapse of 13 years. It is 2011 and the pressure due to inflation and cost of living has touched the sky is known to everybody. If you consider the wage revision by an alien body is unconstitutional and to be declared null and void you should have voiced the opinion at the commencement of the board.
    2) It is a pity that the journalist would fear the Govt and that freedom of expression is at stake is nothing but childish. They only fear the management that would hesitate to pay the legitimate dues and would like to sabotage their claims. Already they issue danger signals in their red ads and are also paying and employing legal luminaries to fight the case in Supreme courts.
    3) It is a false claim that a peon will be entitled to draw 45000 rupees as salary, as a fresher in a Newspaper industry is paid less than 20000 only which is bear minimum and could be comparable with a state government.
    4) The govt spends nearly 40 to 50% of their income to the salary and other benefits to the employees. Only in IT companies and newspaper industry has a lower expenditure on its staff which is 20 to 25%. Any comparison is viable only with the IT sector.
    5) This is ad world and the newspaper,TV media are the biggest beneficiaries. You will have to search for a news item amongst the ads. No wonder a day will come, the readers will be given a contest to spot the news item in a crowded ad space.
    6) Already several persons in the print media wield a lot of political influence and their names were tarnished in tapes. And there is the Paid news, and many receive covers after an event. All these point out that the media men are paid poorly and it is reason enough to say that they go in search of money. No wonder not many chose to complain to a person who is opposed to them.
    7) When the industry is making windfall profits in good times it did not reward the employees and it is no consolation that it did not cut the salary in recession times.

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