Ranjona Banerji: Trouble @ Tiranga

16 Jul,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The newly launched Tiranga TV finds itself in all sorts of trouble. Owned by Congress leader and Supreme Court lawyer Kapil Sibal, Tiranga TV positioned itself before the general elections as free and fair and so on. Barkha Dutt and Karan Thapar were its star anchors. It got favourable reviews from the viewing public, those that is who wanted to move beyond manufactured studio dramas or Modi-BJP inspired “news”.

 

However, there has been news of Tiranga TV laying off staff in numbers, of employees protesting outside Sibal’s residence and now, Dutt herself has taken on the Sibals in a long thread on Twitter. Dutt says that all employees were guaranteed a minimum two-year tenure the Sibals. And now, bouncers were sent to the office, as employees continued their protests, asking for three-month and six-month notice payouts.

Live programming has been cancelled for 48 hours. The management has been speaking usual jargon, the upshot of which seems to be that not all of those working at Tiranga TV are employees of Veecon, owners of Tiranga TV but were hired through another company Analog, (of which Sibal’s wife Promila is a director). Wheels within wheels.

There are rumours floating on social media that employee contracts state a one-month notice period and therefore the management is well within its rights to give them no more than that. But this is a kick in the stomach as the colourful Indian phrase goes, it is a question of livelihood and bureaucratic small print cannot answer for the bigger picture.

Several journalists on social media have started discussing the need for unions so that journalists can show solidarity and have some larger negotiating powers. Tiranga TV is not the first instance, even in recent times, where large numbers have been laid off and most of it has flown under the radar. Ananda Bazar Patrika and NDTV are two examples where we did precious little for our own.

The contract system introduced in the 1990s, after the advent of television news, more or less put paid to the power of journalists’ unions. Journalists for all that they focus on the rights of others are notoriously negligent when it comes to their own rights or those of their colleagues. Few read their own employment contracts properly, forget questioning them until it is too late.

We chose money over security then, and who can blame us, given the pittances that we were paid. Let us remember that there is a Wage Board for working and non-working journalists which still operates under the Ministry of Labour and Employment. I myself received a generous “award” from the government-appointed wage commission in the late 1980s, to make up for the money I had been denied by my employer at the time. This is when my salary was a massive Rs 2500 a month (with a maximum of Rs 75 per increment at my level).

Although the National Union of Journalists has pushed for a new Wage Board and for the government to check cross-media holdings and other such issues, the irony here is outstanding. Journalists are forced to ask the government to intervene because their employers do not follow the rules or are unwilling to consider the needs of their employees. You may recall a CEO of Bennett and Coleman writing edit page pieces protesting on how his driver’s salary might be increased by the wage board. Imagine a man earning in crores getting so upset about a few thousands. That’s management for you.

And if employers did pay fair wages and look after their employees’ interests, why would anyone appeal to the government at all?

For the employees of Tiranga TV, one can only offer support and solidarity. And perhaps it is time for a strong journalists’ union, one that has both power and strength. In the past, unions have fallen prey to scabs very easily. And the lure of money has been enough to make people shut up, especially when it came to colleagues. It needs a bigger idea than whatever is on offer now. Anyone?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

 

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