The Madras High Court issued an interim injunction on December 30, 2013 against the management of New Generation Media Corporation, restraining them from giving effect to their letter to the employees of December 23, asking them to take a salary reduction or a severance package. The injunction is effective till January 21, 2014, when the management is to reply to the notice.
New Generation Media belongs to the SRM Group, a private educational institute with several colleges, which also has two Tamil channels.
The management had given the letter to about 35 employees of the proposed English news channel on December 26, asking them to reply by December 30 as to which option they were willing to take – a 50 per cent cut in salary or a severance package of three months. Twenty-six employees in Chennai and Delhi had urgently moved the vacation judge of the Court, as the regular court is not in session.
A notice has also been issued to the State government to file a reply as it had been also made a respondent, on the grounds that the company cannot close down a part of its operations without notifying the state government under the Industrial Disputes Act. Reference was also made to the protection provided to journalists under the Working Journalists Act.
R Vaigai, Senior Lawyer with the Madras High Court, who appeared for the employees, said that it’s a “landmark intervention by the courts on behalf of the employees of broadcast journalism, since there is no other instance of such an action ever having been taken before.”
The letter signed by RBU Shyam Kumar, CEO, New Generation Media, had stated that the “turn of events over the few months including the unwarranted cancellation” of the English news licence by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had made the company “streamline its business priorities”. The letter proposed cut in salary for most people by 50 per cent, and for some, lower than that. Alternately, the employees were free “to relieve yourselves from the service and you will be offered a three-month CTC as relieving package”.
The announcement for a closure of the English section was made by Chief Editor S Srinivasan on December 9, following which the employees had written a note to the President of the company, RP Sathyanarayanan, younger son of TR Pachamuthu, the man who started the SRM Group, asking them to reconsider launching the channel. On December 13, the CEO came to Delhi to meet the employees and offer them the “restructured” package. Letters written by the employees to the management went unanswered, and these were produced before the Court.
Vaigai said that the injunction was important as there was a huge boom in broadcast journalism. “On the one hand, journalists are supposed to fight for the rights of others, while on the other, internally, the actions taken by the managements can be completely arbitrary and highhanded. This should be prevented by judicial intervention.”