As Crisis of Corporate Media Mounts, IFJ Calls for New Deal
As Crisis of Corporate Media Mounts, IFJ Calls for New Deal for India’s Journalists
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and partners in the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) are deeply alarmed at the mounting job losses in the Indian media, as an economic slowdown rapidly turns into all-out recession.
SAMSN partners in India report that beginning August 16, no fewer than 350 employees of the highly diversified media group Network 18, were handed letters of termination. The layoffs are believed to affect well over a quarter of the total employee strength of the media group’s news broadcast subsidiary, TV 18.
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), a unit of the IFJ-affiliated Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU) has described the mass layoffs as the application of “jungle law” and called on regulatory authorities to intervene and stop the haemorrhage of jobs.
The National Union of Journalists of India (NUJ-I) another IFJ affiliate, has condemned the layoffs as “arbitrary and unwarranted”.
The purported objective of cutting personnel costs to deal with a profit crunch, the NUJ-I says, does not stand scrutiny, since Network 18 has put in place “a huge hierarchy” in the management space, where a major share of the wages and salaries budget is allocated. Nobody within this unproductive hierarchy of managers is being retrenched, the NUJ-I points out.
Senior managers within Network 18 have been unavailable for comment and employees targeted in the recent layoffs are reluctant to speak out for fear of losing the modest compensation packages they have been promised.
Network 18 through TV 18, owns a number of TV broadcast channels, including the English-language CNN-IBN, the Hindi-language IBN 7 and the Marathi-language IBN-Lokmat. It also controls the business focused channels CNBC-TV 18 in English and CNBC Awaaz in Hindi.
Network 18 was promoted in 1996 as a private limited company with interests in finance. It was taken public and listed on the Indian stock markets in 2006. Early in 2007, it acquired its current identity after an issue of shares at INR (Indian Rupees) 312 on face value of INR 5.
Following the travails of the global financial meltdown, the main Network 18 promoter, Raghav Bahl, secured early in 2012, a personal loan of INR 40 billion from India’s largest corporate enterprise, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), for cutting some of his company’s debt and funding a merger with Eenadu Television (ETV), a major multi-lingual broadcaster based in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.
It was widely believed then, that this would be precursor to an aggressive move by Network 18 into the convergence space, since RIL, headed by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, shortly afterwards signed a deal with Reliance Infocomm, headed by his brother Anil Ambani, to carry media content over the 120,000 kilometre long fibre-optic network controlled by the latter.
RIL had a subsidiary called
Reliance Jio in place for implementing its ambitions in
telecom, but in June 2013, put plans to launch
“fourth-generation” (or 4G) telecom services on hold.
The premium placed on Network 18 media content diminished
rapidly after this decision.
The decision to integrate newsrooms of the various media operations of Network 18 came soon afterwards. And a mass dismissal of staff followed.
The IFJ and SAMSN join partners in India in sharply condemning these arbitrary decisions by the Network 18 management, which follow a pattern set in recent times.
According to the DUJ, the Outlook group recently laid off an estimated one hundred and thirty-five employees after closing down Indian editions of a number of lifestyle magazines it was publishing on franchise arrangements with international media groups.
New Delhi Television (NDTV), India’s first major privately-owned news broadcaster, which benefited from a number of concessions in its early years, has announced plans to cut back business coverage with inevitable consequences in job losses.
“We recognize that times are hard for Indian media enterprises, given the shrinkage of the advertisement support that underwrote the massive expansion since 2004”, said the IFJ Asia Pacific.
“We have to underline though, that very few among the new entities that appeared on the Indian media scene since 2004 showed any regard for the fundamentals of responsible journalism and were rather, focused almost obsessively on capturing a competitive share of the booming advertising market”.
“Media expansion in India has been thoroughly unregulated in this time, with entry requirements being non-existent and basic norms being disregarded, such as the preservation of diversity and the prevention of monopolies”.
“To make journalists the scapegoats at a time when these calculations of the corporate media have proven hollow, is to evade accountability for a sequence of miscued business decisions that put the public interest last”.
“We call for a more humane approach towards the current crisis which preserves the Indian media as a space where the diversity of voices in the country is truly represented and corporate profit is not the sole objective”.