He also added that another problem facing the community is contract employment. “Many of the reputed organisations are employing scribes on contract basis. This is an easy method to deny all the benefits to the working journalists and employees,” says Paul.
The problems faced by the journalists are not new but the number of news channels that have mushroomed in the state in the last decade have worsened the condition of the journalists. Many of these channels are in a huge financial mess. Most of these organisations fail to pay monthly salary to their employees.
Indiavision, the first exclusive news channel of the state, has gone off the air recently after it went deep into financial crisis. The channel that rewrote the conventional journalistic practices of the state has been in the forefront holding up integrity of journalists. Indiavision kept on questioning the ill deeds of the society; they went on pestering tainted politicians and often, the journalists were subjected to humiliation and public harassment. But the management failed miserably in turning this successful model into a profit making business.
The channel stopped airing after the tax sleuths raided the office of the channel and arrested Jamaludeen Farooqi for failing to pay service tax amounting to Rs 9 crore. With the channel bringing its shutters down, some 200 journalists have lost their jobs in a single day. They approached labour commission with the complaints that their salaries for the last four months had not been paid. However, many are still running from pillar to post to settle their issues.
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Former Executive Editor of the channel MP Basheer blames mismanagement to the downfall of India vision: “The channel was running without any loss for the last ten years and suddenly it suffered financial loss. The management misused the funds, which they have amassed using the credibility of journalists. This ultimately led to funds of the channel drying up and the eventual closure of Indiavision.”
Basheer said that the channel from the beginning had been running on a menial income, but the democratic environment in the newsroom had kept the journalists united and the firm running. Salaries were pending for many months and management did not give many of the welfare benefits to its employees.
Basheer said that he is paying out of his pocket to fight 19 legal cases slapped against him while heading the firm.
After leaving the organisation, Basheer started an online news website, South Live with the help of 16 other senior journalists, who were his colleagues at Indiavision.
Another channel, TV New too closed down within a few months after it went live. The channel that was owned by Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry ran up huge debt within months of its broadcasting.
When the salaries of the journalists were delayed, the employees started a sit-in protest inside the newsroom. Even though the management resumed the broadcasting by re-branding the channel, the situation has not improved much with salaries and other benefits still pending.
Channels like Reporter TV, Jeevan TV and People TV are also finding it tough to run their business properly.
The ceo and editor of Reporter TV MV Nikesh Kumar told Tehelka in an exclusive interview a month ago that the channel is facing some financial problems but it is not in any crisis: “Kerala does not have a market for too many channels. Bigger ones take half of the share of ad revenues, and the smaller ones fight with each other for the remaining pie.”
Paul said that the main problem is the lack of capital amount. The small organisation that starts a new channel lacks money. Within in a year, these channels run out of fund and the firms come under financial pressure.
Some borrow more money to keep the firm running leading to the closure of the channel or organisation.
Many channels and small newspaper firms find it tough to run the business profitably. Many months ago, the Malayalam edition of the India Today magazine was closed down after the firm went through a decade of losses. Even though, the organisation had compensated their employers many are yet to find a new job.
The average salary of a trainee journalist in a newspaper or TV channel is between 8,000 to 10,000 per month. During the training periods, these cubs are denied job benefits such as bonuses, insurance coverage, profit sharing and many others.
“After spending astronomical amount on education, the remuneration we get is too low. We are forced to borrow money from parents to stay in a city like Kochi,” said a trainee reporter with a Malayalam daily.
State general secretary of kuwj N Padamanabhan said that the union is viewing this situation as a move to muzzle the voice of free speech.
The union has taken the issue more seriously and has staged many agitations in all district centres on 2 July in an attempt to bring the focus of the civil society of the state to the topic.
He also said that union is taking some issues more seriously, especially the alleged snooping of journalists including women inside Mathrubhumi office.
Without proper infrastructure, money and conducive work environment, the scribes in the state are leading miserable lives.