The Supreme Court permitted three journalists’ bodies to add a prayer to an earlier writ petition challenging job losses in the media on Friday, which the apex court had admitted in April this year. However, given the spate of layoffs across newspapers, TV channels, magazines and digital outlets, the bodies have asked the court to issue directions for action against employers who have not complied by the MHA order in March which forbade layoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition was filed by the The National Alliance of Journalists, The Delhi Union of Journalists and The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists. A three-member bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan heard Advocate Colin Gonsalves who appeared on behalf of the petitioners. The next hearing in the matter will take place after four weeks. The scribes’ petition forms part of a batch of petitions which deal with challenges to the order by the Ministry of Home Affairs on March 29, 2020.
The order had said that all employers would pay their employees without fail even if their establishments were shut due to the lockdown announced on March 24.
The prayer added to the petition urged the top court to “issue an appropriate writ, order or direction directing the Union of India and all the State Governments to enforce the Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) dated 29.3.2020 issued by Government of India by proceeding under Section 10(2)(l) read with Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 against the newspaper establishments and digital and electronic media establishments for violation of the said Order, and to enforce the Advisories dated 22.3.2020.”
The petition had been admitted by an SC bench comprising Justices N.V.Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and B.R.Gavai on April 27. It had urged the apex court to suspend, with immediate effect, all terminations, resignations, wage deductions and directions to go on leave without pay which took place since the lockdown was announced.
“In the backdrop of the lockdown, the media industry has affected job losses and wage cuts with impunity. Media houses have summarily shut down, in violation of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Despite the advisories mentioned above and legal provisions that disallow retrenchments, terminations or even suspension and closure of publications without due process, media companies have gone ahead with these measures, unmindful of the fact that in a lockdown of such an incredible magnitude people can barely move out, leave alone go job-hunting,” the petition had said.
However, even after April, a series of job cuts have taken place across media organisations.
“Since April 2020, scores of journalists media establishments across India have been illegally terminated, with barely a few hours notice, and received a month’s wages as notice. Others have had salary cuts or enforced furloughs,” the press release issued by the journalists’ bodies stated. It added that the petition would now focus on the fact that the “Government of India take action against employers who were in breach of the 29.3.2020 MHA order and other notifications.”
Recently, twenty journalists, formerly of The Hindu, challenged their termination. The Business Standard began its second round of retrenchments. Earlier, The Sakal Times shut down with scores of employees losing their jobs. There have been sackings at The Times of India group (BCCL) publications, at The Hindustan Times, The Telegraph and at Outlook Magazine. Journalist Cyril Sam has been keeping track of the changes in newsrooms here.