Posts Tagged ‘Ravi Dhariwal’

Should papers implement Majithia wage board?

21 June 2011

Notwithstanding the exponential growth of the print media post-liberalisation, it is clear that the voice of journalists in the publications they bring out is subservient to that of the proprietor, promoter and publisher on most issues and certainly so on the Majithia wage board for journalists and “other newspaper employees”.

Although owners and managers have unabashedly used the columns of their newspapers to rile against higher wages and build “public opinion” against the Majithia wage board through reports, opinion pieces and advertisements, a similar facility has been unavailable for journalists to air their views in the same publications.

It is as if journalists and “other newspaper employees”, whether on contract or otherwise, are in sync with their organisations in opposing the wage board’s recommendations. Which is, of course, far from the truth. Which is, of course, why a nationwide strike has been slated for June 28  to draw attention to journalists’ demands.

So, what do you think?

Is there a case for higher wages for journalists and “other newspaper employees”? Should the Majithia wage board be implemented or should wage boards be abolished? Are newspapers, which are rolling in profits, exploiting journalists with low wages and longer working hours? Or should journalists wisen up to the realities of the modern work place?

Is there truth in the charge that industry organisations like the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) are being used by big newspaper groups to prevent if not stall the new wages? Or is the contention of newspaper owners that they will wilt and crumble under the pressure of a higher wage bill justified?

Also read: Why doesn’t INS oppose no-poaching pacts?

Why Majithia wage board is good for journalists

9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism

Media barons wake up together, sing same song

INS: “We reject wage board recommendations”

External reading: Why not wage board for all journos and non-journos in media?

9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism

18 June 2011

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 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.


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”

Is ‘Vijaya Karnataka’ ready for a Dalit editor?

9 December 2010

Vishweshwar Bhat‘s exit from Vijaya Karnataka yesterday has been treated by the paper’s owners and managers with the same contemptible gracelessness that has been the hallmark of their conduct vis-a-vis journalists in the last two decades. There is not an announcement in today’s paper nor an explanation.

It is as if the reader, who is told why Yana Gupta didn’t wear her underwear, somehow doesn’t deserve to be told why there is a change at the top of the State’s biggest newspaper, in today’s imprintline.

The boiler-plate internal Times VPL memo, designed to reassure the rest of the flock and cool their anxieties, announces the name of E. Raghavan as the new consulting editor of the paper, on top of his current responsibilities as consulting editor of the presciently named Vijaya Next.

But just what kind of new editor should a mass-circulation paper like Vijaya Karnataka get? The Udaya TV anchor Deepak Thimaya, who did a short stint as editor of Vijaya Next before being replaced by Raghavan, has posted a provocative suggestion on his Facebook page.

I think a qualified journalist with a Dalit background should be made editor of a major newspaper in Karnataka. We may get new perspectives and the issues addressed may be different too. The time is ripe.”

Thimaya doesn’t take the name of Vijaya Karnataka, of course, but the hint is clear.

Also read: Why Deepak Thimaya left Vijaya Next

Anybody here who’s Dalit and speaks English?

Vishweshwar Bhat resigns from Vijaya Karnataka

8 December 2010

Vishweshwar Bhat, the popular yet controversial editor of Vijaya Karnataka, the mass-circulation Kannada daily owned by The Times of India group, has resigned.

Bhat’s decision was announced to his staff this afternoon after a meeting with ToI chief executive officer Ravi Dhariwal and chief marketing officer Rahul Kansal who had flown down to Bangalore.

Bhat confirmed the resignation to, adding that, although he had no negative feelings for the company, he had begun to feel “slightly uncomfortable” in the last few months.

“I decided to quit when things were all right,” he said.

There is no word how long his name will appear on the imprintline or who his replacement is likely to be, although there is a rumour that E. Raghavan, who retired as editor of the Economic Times editions in the south and currently edits the Kannada weekend broadsheet Vijaya Next, may fill the breach.

The charitable version for the exit is that Bhat, who took over the reins of the paper 10 years ago, wanted a three-year sabbatical to go abroad and study which the Jains, who picked up the paper from Vijay Sankeshwar of the logistics company VRL four years ago, were disclined to give.

Bhat says he intends to pursue higher education now that he has been freed of his commitments, although the buzz is he may join a soon-to-be-started Kannada news channel. The no-compete clause in Sankeshwar’s deal with Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd also ends next year opening up new possibilities on the Kannada media map.

However, the press club gossip is less than charitable. This version has it that Bhat had reached the end of the long rope that had been extended him, during which period the paper veered overtly to the right, attracting the ire of Muslims, Dalits and Christians.

In a petition earlier this year, when Bhat was nominated for an honorary doctorate, the Karnataka chapter of Transparency International dashed off a petition, accusing the editor of being “primarily responsible for instigating and fuelling communal hatred by regularly publishing extremely volatile and offensive articles and editorials.”

Recent surveys also showed that Vijaya Karnataka‘s readership and circulation were moving southwards, to the discomfiture of the bosses, necessitating the change of guard.

All things considered, to Bhat goes the credit of turning a fledgling daily into a market leader and opinion maker, overtaking the 60-year-old Praja Vani from the Deccan Herald group in next to no time with a series of innovations and reader-friendly initiatives.

The prolific Bhat churned out a weekly Sunday diary, a Saturday media column, a Thursday edit-page piece, and wrote on a range of issues each week, besides regularly publishing books, compilations and translations. There was no inkling of the coming end even in Wednesday’s paper which carries a tribute by Bhat on page 7.

Bhat’s resignation is the third reorganisation exercise undertaken by VPL president Sunil Rajshekhar after shutting down The Times of India Kannada edition and launching Vijaya Next.

Photograph: via Facebook

Also read: Bhat in a flap over honorary doctorate

Is the management responsible for content too?

A blank editorial, a black editorial & a footnote

External reading: That’s

When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu

11 April 2008

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: “Unprecedented” is the most misused and abused word in Indian journalism. Anything—almost everything—that the desk couldn’t check if it had happened before, is effortlessly slapped with the label “unprecedented”.

But 14 April 2008 will truly be an “unprecedented” day in the annals of Indian print media when the first bundle of The Times of India is shrunkwrap in its Madras presses and loaded on to a waiting truck.
It will be unprecedented for at least five reasons:

# It will establish The Times of India as India’s first truly national newspaper brand.

# It will breach the unwritten no-compete “arrangements” between print media behemoths.

# It will test if Madras is really an orthodox, conservative City as the world thinks it is.

# It will pit “serious journalism” versus anything-goes, chalta-hai, page 3 pap.

# It will be a battle that will establish if content is king, or if reader loyalty is hogwash.

Each of those claims are worthy of attention.

The Hindu advertises below its masthead that it has been “India’s national newspaper since 1878”, but the national there only refers to its role in the freedom movement, not its geographical spread. The undivided Indian Express, with 23 editions, claimed that it was “India’s only national newspaper” although it did not print in the East. But ToI‘s Madras edition, on top of editions in Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta makes it “The Masthead of India” (as its TV commercials claim), with editions in all four metro centres of the country.

For the Jains, Samir and Vineet, whose bhagwad gita is the advertising rate-card, that is of enormous signficance, especially if it can take their mother Indu Jain a few notches higher on the Forbes‘ list of Indian women-billionaires.

Second, the buzz, for a long time, was that there was a mutual agreement between the nation’s English media moguls that they would not enter each other’s “profit-centres”. It was first broken when the Hindustan Times went to Bombay three years ago. But Madras had remained a turf of The Hindu through and through. That stranglehold was slightly broken when Deccan Chronicle launched an edition a couple of years ago. But it is only ToI‘s entry on Monday, after several promised launches, that will break the monopoly fully, formally and finally.

However, these “unprecedented” feats are nothing compared to the real thing, which is the battle for the soul of Madras between two centenarians. In that sense not only is the ToI launch unprecedented, it is also historic.

Unlike bindaas Bangalore, Madras prides itself on being a literate City that values the word—or at least The Hindu paints its reader as a literate one who values the word and drinks buttermilk and goes to bed every night after attending a katcheri at the Academy in the evening.

Grim and correct, the “loyal” Hindu reader is said to be a serious, substantive character, not given to frivolous, titillating stuff that captivates the rest of us.

Kosovo more than Kodambakkam; abstract not tactile.

The arcane details of a bilateral contract between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, the full text of the CPI(M) resolution on the 123 agreement, an MP3 of an anti-globalisation Nobel laureate’s speech, report of the expert group on agricultural indebtedness, a (preferably TamBrahm) bureaucrat’s defence of red tape… this is the kind of stuff that The Hindu, as the “paper of record” thinks its readers are dying to read every morning, and this is what its reporters and editors purvey with pride.

V.R. Krishna Iyer‘s fulmination, howsoever mediocre, M.S. Swaminathan‘s latest “note”, howsoever silly, Subramaniam Swamy‘s latest diatribe, howsoever mad, all get full play in the name of seriousness. Its reporters take down notes from railway, election, electricity, forest, and other officials as if they are receiving The Word from God herself.

The more boring the output, the more gray the presentation, the more serious the content, and therefore the more credible the newspaper was the inherent assumption.

Whether the reader really wanted such stuff, we don’t know because he was a hostage; he had no choice. Whether this was all Madras (and India) had to offer no one knew, because there was no other way to know. Whether this was how it was to be presented, in turgid unreadable prose, no one could argue.

The Hindu landed at his doorstep as regularly, and with the same consistency of his sachet of milk. You couldn’t argue with the milkman, you couldn’t argue with the hawker.

That comfort zone gets altered with the arrival of The Times of India.


The Hindu has had plenty of time and examples to prepare for this, the greatgrandmother of all newspaper battles. On the one hand, it has seen how ToI entered other established centres and tried to break the existing reader habit.

In Bangalore, Deccan Herald let ToI run all over it. In Delhi, Hindustan Times tried to compete but gave up after a while (after which Shobana Bharatiya was decorated with the ET Businesswoman of the Year). In Hyderabad, Deccan Chronicle played ToI‘s own game better. In Calcutta, The Telegraph has put up a stiff fight.

If The Hindu has learnt anything from these jousts, will be known shortly. But it has certain shown that it is up for a fight.

It got Mario Garcia to put its very old wine in a spanking new bottle. It has launched new supplements like “nxG” for the next generation, and a free tabloid called “Ergo” along the IT corridor. It is even tying up with NDTV to launch a Madras-centric channel called “Metro Nation”. Last week, its staff got generous hikes ranging from 60 per cent to 100 per cent.

Will all that help The Hindu to stave off the challenge?

If history is anything to go by, it has a good chance. Deccan Chronicle, a paper which copied The Times‘ editorial and marketing strategy and kept the ToI challenge at bay in Hyderabad, entered Madras with the same grandiose notion of upsetting The Hindu.

On paper, it clocked a circulation of well over a couple of lakh on a one-rupee cover price which was two full rupees less that of The Hindu, but The Hindu has lost none of its numbers even at the full cover price.

So, a price differential which ToI might offer through an invitation price (Rs 170 for six months, Rs 299 for a year) might not necessarily work wonders, especially in a year when ToI cannot afford to “dump” copies as it usual does, as the group has taken a Rs 400 crore hit on its bottomline because of soaring newsprint prices.

But where ToI differs from DC is in its content. Although its marketing men pride themselves on making the editor irrelevant, ToI is like a chameleon, which can tailor the kind of “serious” coverage that might suit a supposedly serious readership like Madras’.

Plus, it can offer reams and reams of job advertisements and “news you can use” classifieds through all its many partnership deals, which in a consumptive age is not to be sniffed at.

And then there is its marketing muscle. Having firmly embraced the advertising model, ToI sells its thick papers like toothpaste or soap. Its hoardings, its sales executives all dressed in newsprint attire with the line “Next Change” have been the talk of the town, peering from every building and apartment.

Will orthodox, conservative readers who claim to adore serious stuff be able to avoid the temptation of peering into an almost-free publication with plenty of colour, glitz and glamour? Or will only “outsiders” in Madras—the young and unconnected who have come here to work—shift to a paper which they are used to seeing in their hometowns?

The Times‘ executive president Ravi Dhariwal has told a fellow publisher that the paper is aiming at a print order of between 175,000 and 200,000 on day one. That will straightaway establish it as a No. 2 in a market where the revamped Indian Express sells in the low thousands, and DC‘s numbers few believe or care for. But ToI is not coming here to be No. 2, it’s aiming to be No.1.

Through its contemptuous disregard for reader interest in the coverage of Nandigram and Tibet, in particular, The Hindu has shown that it is stuck in an ideological Cooum. Through its disconnect with a changing India, a changing Madras, and changing reader profile, it has taken the high moral ground.

Yet, readers have stuck to it through it because they had no other choice.

And on top of all that have been the increasingly shrill accusations of bias. First an anti-right, anti-BJP bias under Malini Parthasarathy (which was supposed to be alienating the core readership), and then a full scale pro-left bias under N. Ram (whose reinstallation was supposed to provide the course-correction).

But a battle with The Times of India is not about morals; it’s about money and muscle.

In Madras, from Monday, it’s the battle of two worldviews between two centenarians.

In one corner is a left-of-centre 128-year-old which silently says we are right, this is what the official/minister told us; which says the world is falling apart, take our word for it; which says the movie to watch this Friday is a long-lost Francois Truffaut , and have you heard the Subramanyam Bharati number which M.S. Subbulakshmi didn’t record?

In the other corner is a 170-year-old will o’ the wisp which says screw farmers, the world is a great place if you just keep buying the stuff our advertisers sell; corruption is here to stay yaar, why bother, I’m OK you’re OK; which says the individual is bigger than society; which says Munnabhai MBBS was great but Lage Raho should have got the Oscar.

In its own ways, The Hindu has shown it won’t change. Its readers?

Also read: When my newspaper is no longer my newspaper

Blogger Views: How will The Hindu react?

The Hindu versus The Times of India

Yuck, ToI is coming to Madras

The Hindu is afraid of The Times of India

Image: courtesy AgencyFAQs

Cross-posted on sans serif