SC notice to govt against termination, salary cut

SC notice to Centre on plea against termination, salary cut and closure

The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Centre, the Indian Newspapers Society, and the News Broadcasters Association on a plea by a group of journalists' bodies against termination, salary cut, and forced leave effected in print and electronic media with impunity, following the lockdown clamped to check the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench of Justices N V Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and B R Gavai said that the matter required consideration as it has raised some serious issues.

"Other Unions are also raising such an issue. The question is if the business does not start, how long will they sustain. This issue needs hearing," the bench said, putting the matter for further consideration after two weeks.

The writ petition filed jointly by the National Alliance of Journalists, Delhi Union of Journalists, and Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists questioned the validity of "unilateral knee-jerk decisions to terminate services, reduce wages and also send employees on forced indefinite unpaid leave".

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves appeared for the journalist bodies. The plea contended that what media establishments or employers were prohibited from doing by law, they were trying to achieve by subterfuge taking the excuse of the lockdown.

They said the arbitrary actions on part of the private media houses placed journalists in a precarious situation. It will also have a pernicious effect on the media sector and will severely hamper the media’s ability to perform its functions in the democratic setup, they added.

Their plea pointed out despite the Prime Minister's appeal, the Ministry of Labour and Employment's advisories and legal provisions that disallowed retrenchments, terminations or even suspension and closure of publications without due process, the media companies have gone ahead with these measures. This was also "unmindful of the fact that in a lockdown of such an incredible magnitude people can barely move out, leave alone go for job-hunting", it contended.

The petitioners, which named several newspapers, magazines, online media outlets, and other employers in the media sector for reportedly having taken such steps, have made the Union government, Indian Newspapers Society and News Broadcasters Association as parties to the petition. 

"The nature of injury caused to the public is that this is an affront to the rights of journalists and also impedes their ability to perform their duties and provide independent journalism as a pillar of democracy," they said.

Their plea said the retrenchment was also in violation of Sections 25N and 25O of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and Section 16A of the Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955.

As per the Ministry of Home Affairs's order of March 24, 2020, the journalists and non-journalists employees working in the print, electronic and digital media sector were carrying out essential services and they continued to perform their duties even during the ongoing lockdown.