COVID-19: Media houses buckle under pressure
The Hindu, published daily since 1878, but it did not come out on December 2nd, 2015 as workers could not access the press due to heavy rains. This was the first time in 137 years that the paper was unable to go to the press. After five years, the current crisis of COVID-19 has forced many print players to stop publishing their editions. Not only print publications but electronic and digital mediums are equally disturbed.
COVID-19 has not impacted all the sectors equally but some of the sectors are drained because of this pandemic. Apart from tourism, hospitality, aviation, manufacturing, media industry is one of the worst affected sectors. With maximum revenue coming from events and advertising, the media sector was on a high but COVID-19 has brought everything to a halt. There are no physical events happening and retail sales are down which leads to no marketing or advertising in the national or regional dailies.
With no events and advertising, revenue streams for the media industry have really shrunk, leading to shut down of major units and multiple layoffs. Companies are also opting for pay cuts, along with a freeze on hiring and appraisals.
Print & Digital
Earlier this month, The Express Group informed its employees that the company has opted for a temporary salary cut. The company mentioned that the advertising revenues have been hit hard and all available evidence shows the worst may be yet to come. The Chief Editor, Rajkamal Jha has already opted for a 100 per cent salary cut.
Financial daily, Business Standard has asked its staff to take a salary cut and senior leaders of Hindustan Times have volunteered for a 25% pay cut.
In journalism, good news travels fast and bad news travels instantly. The same happened in this situation; all the media companies started talking about the layoffs and pay cuts in their industry and some shared their thoughts on social media.
One of the senior journalists of Times of India Group shared a facebook post, saying, “The entire team of Sunday magazine of Times of India asked to leave. Got a call from my boss Poonam Singh. Sacked after 24 years from a company I served with love for more than two decades.”
According to a media website, news website Quint has asked about 45 employees to go on indefinite leave without pay. This includes reporters, copy editors, a bureau chief, production staff, and the entire technology team. The decision was conveyed to them by their respective heads of the department starting Sunday evening.“Our total team strength is over 200. And about 45 employees have been asked to go on leave without pay,” reported the media website.
In the wake of this pandemic, all the print publications have taken the digital route to cut costs. Companies have transformed all their print magazines into digital ones.
Multiple media reports suggest that News Nation has laid off sixteen employees from its English digital section. Talking to a media site, one of the employees of News Nation shared the entire scenario where the editor called certain employees and informed them about the bad news followed by a termination email.
Reports appeared that NDTV, which was posting a profit for a couple of quarters, has also announced up to 50% of pay cuts. Another business channel, Bloomberg Quint is said to have taken a few harsh decisions. The report suggests that the company has cut 50% of the salary of all the employees whose CTCs are between 6- 12 lakhs. Going further, the company has cut 75% salary of employees who withdraw more than 12 lakhs. The company is planning to resume the normal salary from May and this is a temporary step to navigate through this crisis.
Not only national channels and dailies are feeling the pinch but regional players are travelling on the same rough road. Managing Director & Chief Editor of Weekly Nai Duniya, Shahid Siddiqui tweeted, “I launched Weekly Nai Duniya in 1973 when I was doing my masters in Pol Sc at DU. I never missed a single issue in the last 47 yrs even during Emergency when my father was in Jail & pre-censorship was imposed on Nai Duniya. For the first time, we have stopped the publication.”
Some of the reports highlighted that regional publications such as Hamara Mahanagar, and Kasturi news channel have shut shops because of COVID-19. As the company has closed their editions, employees are going through a very tough time because some of them have received their pay and some are waiting for their accounts to be credited.
According to sources, some of the digital media companies have asked their employees to take a sabbatical or a huge pay cut. With no other choices, employees are discussing the matter with the company’s HR heads and opting for the next steps accordingly.
Media companies are not expecting things to become smoother in the next three to four months. Even if the advertising brands come back on track, they will not start advertising immediately and will focus on production and their workforce. Advertising will come last in the to-do list. With no advertising or less advertising, a two quarter hit is sure for all the media companies.
Different media bodies are requesting the government for the help that can revive this industry and they can put a halt to the layoffs. The situation is worrisome as India is locked down till May 3rd, 2020 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged employers to take care of their employees and not lay them off or to cut their salaries. Well, with lockdown 2.0 coming into the picture, it will be difficult to say in which direction it will go.