India’s media is a robustly growing industry, with newspapers and television channels multiplying in an aggressively competitive landscape. But, salaries in print media companies are still mired in the 1980s with the government playing the big daddy through mandated wage boards.
Fixing of salaries for print media journalists by setting up a statutory wage board for newspapers and enforce it through a government executive order is a throwback to earlier decades and goes against the principles of economic reforms, experts said.
The National Commission on Labour headed by former labour minister Ravindra Verma had clearly stated in its report in 2002 that there was no need for any wage board — statutory or otherwise — for fixing workers' remuneration in any industry.
The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) — the apex body of print media publications — has warned that many publications will have to shut down operations if the Justice Majithia wage board recommendations are thrust upon them.
“If the recommendations in the Report are implemented, what to say of small and medium newspaper establishments who have no capacity to pay, some of leading newspaper groups too would find it difficult to implement and would suffer heavy losses. It would not only result in their inability to pay but also result in suspension of activities,” INS said in a representation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently.
The Justice Majithia wage board recommendations were submitted to labour ministry on December 31, last year and the Centre is examining the report.
Experts said fixing of salaries for employees of print media organisations creates an uneven playing field in the broader media industry. It discriminates against the print media industry and hands down a clear comparative advantage with other media platforms such as television, radio and the Internet.
“This is discriminatory, prejudicial to print media and aimed at fettering freedoms guaranteed to the media by the Constitution,” the INS, which has 1,017 media organisations as members, said in its representation to the prime minister.
Legal experts also said that fixing salaries statutorily, rather than through mutual negotiations, is an anachronism as there was little value in following a piece of legislation that was enacted at a time when the government wanted to regulate everything.
“The Working Journalists Act and the Newspaper Employees Act were enacted in the 1950s when journalists and other employees in the newspaper industry were not getting proper emoluments and government intervention in the form for set up wageboards for employees of this industry was necessary,” said Vikas Singh, former additional solicitor general and senior Supreme Court advocate.
Experts drew parallel to the once regulated telecom industry where the policy of forbearance — allowing private sector compete among themselves — have forced tariffs to plunge.
"If a policy analogous to the policy of forbearance is followed in newspaper industry it will ensure that talented journalists and non-journalist employees get better emoluments and other service conditions and the dead wood is sidetracked," Singh said.
Experts are of the opinion that no wage boards should be constituted, including those for journalist and non-journalist employees in newspaper establishments.
"As virtually no other industry has wage boards, there is no rationale for persisting with such boards for the print media. The government was wrong to have appointed wage boards," the INS said.