Ranjona Banerji: Salary cuts in news media are humane & proper thing to do given Covid-19-led crisis?

14 Apr,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

As the world grapples with the effects of Covid-19 and governments across the world work out economic packages to save jobs, owners and managers of the Indian media react in classic form. They shutdown sections of their newspapers and websites and sacked a large number of staff. Perhaps media owners had prior knowledge that Narendra Modi was going to make “don’t sack people from their jobs” one of his seven “tasks” for citizens in his April 14 speech, so they quickly sacked everyone before?

Media houses blame the virus for their actions. The Times of India has shut down its Sunday glossy and staff have been sacked. Hindustan Times will apparently close its Marathi section. Several others have planned layoffs and prepared lists of employees. Rumours are flying around and there is an atmosphere of fear.

As ever, the brunt has been borne by the juniormost employees, those who are the most vulnerable, and by journalists. I’ve said it semi-jokingly before, but maybe this time I really mean it: sacking one hired CEO (not an owner, obviously) would probably save enough to allow everyone else to keep their newsroom jobs. But seriously, why not a 50 per cent salary cut at the top? The difference between salaries at the very top of management and at the bottom of the ladder is humungous in simple zero terms.

Salary cuts are the humane and proper thing to do in these difficult times. Let the highest paid take the brunt of it and work downwards accordingly. Cut down on unnecessary expenditure and wait it out. One of my former bosses suggested benching, staggered work schedules, time-sharing. This way, everyone has work and enough income to tide them over. The internet offers an easy way out here if paper is too expensive to manage now, but one hears even websites are cutting back.

During the Gujarat riots of 2002, the Times of India stopped publication of its Ahmedabad Times and Baroda Times supplements for a couple of months. The staff were moved to the main edition. No jobs were lost, even if there was no income coming in. Now, the same organisation cannot find a way to organise either itself or its workforce in a crisis.

It is criminal to add to the humanitarian crisis in a global epidemic. The problem is that once these dominoes start falling, no one can stop them. The prime minister’s sixth commandment: “do not sack people from jobs”, sounds like a sick joke right now.

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While the media implodes, the nation is on the brink. The enablers of the ruling dispensation within the media continue to cover up and deflect attention. Rahul Kanwal of India Today TV got tremendous flack for his “investigation” into madrassas in Delhi and how they do not follow social distancing and other protocols. His defence of “a story is a story” was ripped apart by senior journalists but I cannot see that this will make any difference.

Most of our “news” channels appear to have one agenda and that is to keep the BJP’s demonising of Muslims on course. They have cleverly used Covid19 to target the Muslim community and generate more pro-BJP toxic waste. The problems being faced by the world are unimaginably frightening and to focus on schoolchildren at a time like this – and use the “judgment call” editorial defence – makes you realise why there is so little sympathy for the media today.

Never have so many paid the price for the dereliction of duty by so few.

 

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

 

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