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 sans serif 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) will come 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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12 Responses to “9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism”


  1. Why is the big-shot media baron hiding?

  2. journo Says:

    Who says journalists need a wage board for a salary hike? Those who lick the feet of the top bosses always manage to do well financially. No matter whether they have broken a real story in their entire career, they still get all the promotions and pay hikes. For now most of the organisations have taken to the contract system that have made the issue of salary determination very subjective. With the top bosses being out of the wage board in almost all the major newspapers now, no body seems to be bothered about its fate.
    However, the fact remains that the purchasing power in the hands of a large number of journalists, covered by the wage board, has diminished largely in the past few years due to inflation. This group is now struggling for sustenance and needs an immediate remedy. Otherwise the slide would gradually taken many — even in English media — towards the kind of yellow journalism that has now come to be associated with the vernacular press.

  3. 3-year-exp-reporter Says:

    Who is this media baron? “Only one of every 10 journalists I meet complains of low wages”…probably he is referring to ivory tower journalists he interacts with on a daily basis. the salaries of 75-90 per cent journalists in the country is pathetic. most get paid below rs.10000 per month especially in vernacular media. the salaries of every other section in this country has gone up. except for top two regional newspapers in every state and top 4 english newspapers, the salaries of every other journalist is pathetic. hope atleast this wage board is implemented for such people.

    also those papers which have faithfully implemented wage board and “board-plus wage policy, in which we pay what the board recommends plus something extra that we can afford” like this media baron proclaims, this “extra something” is grossly discriminatory to all those who are not the pets of the management. the implementation of the wageboard will bring parity in this “something extra” policy that this owner is boasting that he pays his employees. my salary is rs.27,000. it is a comparitively good salary among journalists with my level of experience. but sad fact is that it is not enough to afford things like driving a car, renting a decent two-bed room apartment, eating out,…etc,etc, forget thinking about a marriage!

    also can this media baron say how much money is lavished on his top-level management and other executuives? journos are demanding nothing more than a small amount of money they can save every month to meet exigencies. the existing salaries dont allow us to do this. this amount can be easily adjusted against the salaries of top executives and editors in papers without them even feeling the pinch forget about even noticing it! feel pathetic that a journo has to moan like this about money. but that’s the sad reality of the times we live in.


  4. Most of the small town newspapers do well, at least their proprietors do, and the poor journalists are often asked to find extra money by way of sponging on sources and publicity seekers. Of this, a cut is retained by the journalist often below wage board salaries. So what is the anonymous media baron saying?

  5. Saduji Says:

    @3-year-exp-reporter, very well said. I also found this blog which is quite interesting
    Who will speak for ‘exploited’ journalists?


  6. Dude get this right, Wage board exist in Coal mining too. And when this media baron talks about financial constraint maybe he forgets that his company has just earned profits in 8 digits. And he forgets that a scribe who has worked for more than 25 years in an organization like TOI still earns 32000 thousand rupees. He has to pay rent of 6000 thousand, spend 6000 thousand on grocery, 3000 thousand on petrol, 1000 on electricity, 10000 thousand on his child coaching. I don’t know which of the two figures would appeal you more but Majithia recommendation will not make a journalist a millionaire but will perhaps make sure that he doesn’t die in penury.

    So stop this bullshitting about ‘Govt is scuttling freedom of print media’.

    • Bidyut Says:

      Thumbs up to you. Very well said.

    • Lord Haw Haw Says:

      If after 25 years you earn 32000. There is something seriously wrong with the way you approach your profession and career. Even a soldier in the army after 10 years will earn more than you.

      This is a result of you not chasing job opportunities or simply not being up to it.

  7. Yaksharaja Says:

    I ‘ve only one question to this media baron. Why should a media company sell its product below the cost price. I don’t think reader asked this favor. News paper industry change its business model first. Increasing a rupee on each copy ‘ll fetch all the money to implement wage board and it adds some millions to profit as well.

  8. vijay mahandru Says:

    the wage board was set up to protect free expression and fearless covering of event. this gives freedom to reporter to file the true picture of event and to file unbiased version bcz the press baron cann’t dictate term under the guise of fixing salary. so he can file the unbiased version.

  9. Kashinath Matale,Nagpur Says:

    Printing media owners spreading the untruth information about Majithia Wage board. only some out of thousand newspaper employers submitted their financial position. They are earning huge profit. They are giving more money to their own wishes but not according by the laws. They wanted pressure on government as well as on employees. Employees wants their right, but newspapers owners wanted theirs own law-wish. So newspapers employers always going against the wage board and avoided the the reccomendations of the wage boards. News papers owners earning huge money throuh the advetisement. They publishes more and colourful pages/supplements daily.
    The Inflation of evry commodities ouching the sky. Governent servants salry is so high. That why wage revison is must for newspapers employees after every 3 years or as par government employees wage revision.

  10. Mathen Says:

    print media in india is the only sector which has the protection of govt from the invasion foreign direct investment.
    so the govt has the right to say through the wage boards for newspaper employees.
    otherwise allow the foreign players to india…. they will pay the right salary for the right work..!! no problem…!!


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