Several media houses in Tamil Nadu have joined the list of organisations retrenching employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vikatan Group, a 94-year-old organisation has retrenched 176 of its employees, much to the shock of the community. Other organisations including Vendhar TV and Hello FM of the Daily Thanthi group also have ordered retrenchments of employees. This is despite the fact that media persons are among most affected by the SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The mainstream media shied away from their conventional style of ‘breaking the news’ on termination of the media employees. The government of Tamil Nadu, too, has remained silent on the massive layoffs. The media houses have proven that they are no exception in sticking to their profit motive, even during a pandemic.
The Vikatan group took the unprecedented move of terminating the services of 176 workers without any notice. The move is reportedly aimed at reducing the expenses to maintain the profit margin of the organisation.
The media houses, both print and electronic, carried the advisory of the Labour Ministry on refraining from termination of workers and wage cuts as soon as the nationwide lockdown was announced. But, the same organisations have resorted to terminations and wage cuts violating the advisory, affecting hundreds of employees and their families.
The Centre of Media Persons for Change (CMPC) held a protest demonstration against the move of the Vikatan group on May 22 in Chennai.
“The Vikatan group has terminated the services of 176 employees all of a sudden. This is unacceptable when the media workers are contributing massively even while the pandemic continues to spread in the state,” said Haseef, joint secretary of CMPC.
Several artists and civil society members including social activists, film personalities and educationalists have returned the ‘Vikatan Awards’ presented to them by the organisation as a mark of protest.
“The Vendhar TV management has retrenched 50 staff from the organisation, while Hello FM run by the Daily Thanthi group has terminated 80 staff from different locations across the state,” added Haseef.
The Vikatan group is also being accused of selectively terminating journalists reporting on social and political issues. Allegations of religious bias towards the workers have also come to the light.
R Muhammed Ilyas, a former journalist with Vikatan group who resigned in March 2020 has made his resignation letter public through his Facebook post. He has pointed out to the apprehension of the management of the report carrying a Muslim name in alienating the readers from the article.
He has also claimed that the organisation asked him to freelance for them, but without his name. “The readers might think that the copy could be against the Bharatiya Janata Party and refrain from reading it,” he has written in the post.
The termination of workers has effectively overloaded the existing workers as well and the abrupt announcement has left the affected employees with no options to appeal against the action in any forum.
Many other media houses have cut the wages of the employees from 10% to 40%. The reduction in wages and termination of workers have taken a toll on the employees of various media organisations. The CMPC has demanded the organisations to withdraw the termination of employees and refrain from affecting wage cuts.