Many media houses have no business plan
Information and communication sector in Nepal is growing as an industry with about 1000 newspapers and magazines in regular publication, and about 800 FM radios, 100 TV channels and above 1000 online news portals. It’s been estimated that there are about 20,000 journalists and equal number of media persons. About 13,000 are the members of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ). But a large number of working journalists are deprived of the payment required to buy the basic necessities in their life. Owing to the growing pressure of the working journalists and their umbrella organisation, the FNJ and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MoCIT) had set the minimum wages for journalists, but many media houses have not implemented it even six months after the government announced the new policy in October 18 last year.
The issue has become a cross-cutting one as some large media houses enter into the ring with the government against the implementation of the new policy, claiming that the mandatory provision to submit the bank statement of the journalists’ salary and pay roll to the Department of Information and Broadcasting (DoIB) also created a threat to the right to privacy. In this backdrop, Chairman of Minimum Wage Fixation Committee (MWFC) Gangadhar Parajuli, Director General of the Department of Information and Broadcasting Balkrishna Ghimire and Federation of Nepali Journalists Secretary Ram Prasad Dahal spoke at Gorkhapatra Corporation’s weekly event ‘Gorkhapatra Sambad’ on Sunday. Excerpts:
No risk of breach in individual privacy: Balkrishna Ghimire
The government had announced to increase the salary of the working journalist by 25 per cent on 18 October 2018, and it is in the process of implementation. But, some media houses have raised the issue of individual privacy as the government has demanded the pay-roll, bank statement of the salary deposit and appointment letter of the journalist. There is no risk of breaching the individual privacy since the documents are being collected to prepare reports on the media houses so that the government can provide facilities and incentives to the media houses. We are just following the instructions of the new provision. Salary should be deposited into the bank account of the respective employee and the payment should be proved by the bank with a valid document. We demand the copy of it.
We accept even if there is no document from the media house but the employee has proved that the said amount was deposited into his account. I would like to assure that the information will be kept confidential and wouldn’t be shared with anyone except the court and investigation bodies.
Many media houses in Nepal are established without proper business plan. Most of the problems emerged in absence of proper business plan – including human resource, market area and media type.
The issue of payment from banking channel, bank statement and payment are in high of discussion now. As per the clarity of the media, we are not seeking their individual bank statement. If the media does not make clear or if the working journalist does not receive the payment in their bank account or in case of if the concerned media do not send payroll then we will accept the bank statement of the concerned person.
In case of payroll received, the appointment letter and the letter form the respective media will be sufficient. We also accept the bank statement which will also match the record of the previous month that we had received.
Press pass of those not having bank statement has been rejected. This is not the case, the ministry has asked for assurance of implementation and its report. For the assurance there should be the documents to approve it. The oral agreement is not accepted even in the court as proof. There should be the documents in written.
Regarding the claims that the media owners have to shut down their media if they are forced to provide the minimum wage fixed by the government, I want to make it clear that the media which has been established without proper business plan might have faced such problem, but not all media. The problem is inevitable if one establishes a media without having a business plan.
In Nepal, the media are open on the basis of whim, hobby, geography, completion and ideology without incorporating business plans. In every business there is chance of both gain and loss. If the media could not operate as per the need of time it will surely face the accident.
This wage is for those who work full time and get recruitment. We have received some complaints that big media are also appointing many people informally. This is the consequences of not having proper planning.
We are issuing identity cards by following the process as per the letter we received. The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology had also monitored the process. The Minister had also studied whether the works were per the letter.
The government has been planning to facilitate the media houses. Law and policies are formulated according to the demand of time and they are updated as per need. So, no law is absolute. If the media houses say they are unable to implement the minimum wages with good reasons, we can discuss the issue and find out solution.
The government has no desire to shut down any media house. I had also worked as a member secretary of the Minimum Wages fixation committee. I feel that the problems were created by ourselves because we did not categorise the media houses and kept all houses in the same basket without analysing their status.
Review of minimum wages timely : Ram Prasad Dahal
Minimum wage of journalists was fixed in 2064, 068, 073 BS and now. This is the first time that the minimum wage was reviewed timely. We have to review our past struggle and the implementation of minimum wage. At that time, we have suggested to make the wage double which the Media Society opposed. But it agreed to implement it when the government decided to give some incentives.
This time also, they were bargaining to get some benefit for them. They had given informal message of implementing it if the hike in wage is 25 per cent. We wanted to increase the salary of journalists to Rs 40,000 per month. We recommend 50 per cent hike, but the government reduced it to 25 per cent. There was a type of a gentleman agreement with the media owners to hike the wage by 25 per cent, which now has been violated.
A committee has also been formed to recommend salary of journalists on the basis of their level which has not been made any recommendation so far. It has halted some works. Labour and press freedom are not the same thing. The provision of submitting payroll is not objection-worthy. The government has sought assurance regarding the implementation of the act. If the government seeks some records from the organisation established as per the law, it would not be against the press freedom.
The FNJ has not been lost anywhere. It has given its views to the government and the department. We have exerted pressure for the implementation of the Act. The FNJ is creating pressure for the result. We did not feel necessary to response immediately to the objection of the Media Society. Our decision is in written format.
We are not living silent. We have also organising an interaction between journalists and minister on Tuesday. We are seeking to take commitments from the minister.
Some former FNJ presidents’ personal opinion is not the official view of the FNJ. Now, the FNJ has been exerting pressure on the media houses to implement the Working Journalist’s Act. The Minimum Wages Fixation Committee is now monitoring it. The government should take action against those media house, which are not implementing the Working Journalists Act in media houses.
Meanwhile, in the context of Press Pass, the FNJ has been demanding with the government that it should provide entry to journalists on the basis of the press pass issued by the FNJ. And, if the government agrees to provide validity to the FNJ-issued pass, FNJ could filter their members.
People only having press pass could not be journalist. Many senior journalists still don’t have press pass. And, there could be any alternate of press pass. We are discussing this.
New scheme of wages : Gangadhar Parajuli
The mergers of the minimum wages and press freedom are just seeking an excuse not to implement the Working Journalist Act 1995. The MWFC had recommended increasing the salary of journalists and staff members of media institutions in 2015. Salary of workers in other sectors has increased after that but wages of journalists and workers in the media houses remained the same. Therefore, we recommended the new scheme of wages and the government had decided to increase the salary by 25 per cent as a whole although the committee had suggested hiking it by 20 to 50 per cent according to the classification of the media houses.
Some media owners had expressed their objections over the new salary scheme saying that the government one-sidedly took the decision. The Working Journalists Act has a provision that the journalists and other staff working in the media institution should be governed by the act but the owners went to the court demanding that the non-editorial staff should be governed by the Labour Act.
We had recommended the government to deprive the media houses that do not implement the minimum wages provision of the government facilities. This is not the first recommendation, we have been asking the government to make it so from the very beginning. Earlier governments did not show interest in implementing the recommendation but this government has decided to make it happen. This is not an issue to be connected with the ‘Press Pass’. We can have alternatives of the press pass but there shouldn’t be any excuse to give less or no salary to journalists.
All media owners are not against the new provision, a few of them have stood against it after DoI’s circular which sent waves across all size of media institutions and even the small media entrepreneurs started protesting against it. In order to address their concerns, the MWFC’s meeting last month has recommended the government that the media houses that have less than seven employees or journalists, should be given three months preparation time. The new provision should be implemented in all media houses from the next fiscal year 2019/20. Small media institutions are waiting for the government decision about it.
The media is totally a different from other industries. We are operating media houses in own our interest. The media owners have been operating the media houses for long though they often say they are in lost.
It is not good to compare salary facilities with advertisement distribution. They are totally different issue. So, media houses must paid minimum wages to working journalists any they employ them.
There was the case of non-implementation in the organisation having government’s investment. We had inspected the Gorkhapatra and RSS. There was some problem in those government owned organisations. Now all government media have implemented the minimum wage.
There are no problems in other corporate media houses of Kathmandu. Most of they have implemented it. But those who are working outside the Kathmandu Valley as stringers are still in problem. Media are mobilising them paying only Rs. 10,000 to 12,000 by providing appointment letter as stringer.