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Mixed Media: Effect layoffs if you must, but with care

16-February-2009
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Mixed Media:  Effect layoffs if you must, but with care

“It's a recession when your neighbour loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours."

Smart line from 33rd American president Harry Truman and words that ring in our ears as we go about tracking the economic downturn only to find that we too have been impacted by it.

The print media appears to have been successful in its lobbying for sops from the government. Import duty on newsprint has been abolished and as an exchange4media report flashed last Thursday reported, the Directorate of Audio and Video Publicity (DAVP) rates are also to go up by 25-30 per cent. The notification isn't out at the time of writing, but given that a host of government and India rah-rah ads will appear pre-elections, I won't be surprised if information and broadcasting minister Anand Sharma announces it in a couple of days. Perhaps at the FICCI-Frames 2009, scheduled to start tomorrow (February 17). I am not sure if the government has asked print players to up cover prices to shore up their bottomlines, but there's another issue that could get Sharma to do some plain speak with media owners: employee layoffs.

I have a copy of a letter that the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) is said to have written to labour minister Oscar Fernandes on the issue. It's sent by Mohammed Amin who is no lightweight. Amin's a Rajya Sabha MP, CPI-I (M) polit bureau member and CITU general secretary. So be sure that it will be taken seriously. It will be unfortunate if the government has to step in on the issue like it did when Jet Airways sacked some 1900 employees.

The media mustn't allow the government to interfere in its internal working, but it appears that some of us are asking for it. Layoffs and salary cuts may be a necessity for many businesses to survive. But while we are super at advising how the Prime Minister must improve the economy or are quick to pull up an inefficient civic administration, the problem is that we botch it up ourselves.

I've had several people from various media organisations call me over the last couple of months complaining about how shabbily they were treated. Yes, the slowdown has forced the situation but that doesn't mean staff is summarily dismissed. There is need to effect a layoff sensitively and if necessary, use an outplacement provider.

My view is that the media is itself to blame for the state it is in. It could see it coming in India since the US has been in crisis mode since last year. Agreed the big tumble occurred only when the stockmarkets crashed pre-Diwali and skeletons started pouring out of the financial bigdads, but we also know that our captains often spend indiscriminately. And then go to the I&B minister for a stimulus.

There's no known formula to beat the recession. We've got to keep our efficiencies high, our costs down and still not compromise on product and service quality. Once revenues start coming in, it'll be happy days again. Do I think things will improve in the next six months? I doubt it. It looks like the crunch will last a year. And until then, there's need to weather the storm with care and caution.

The views expressed here are my own. Email mixedmedia@exchange4media.com if you agree/disagree with what's written.

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