On the eve of International Women’s Day, comes news that will bring cheer to women working in the broadcast media in India: Justice V G Petkar of the Industrial Court, Mumbai, has upheld the order of a Labour Court to reinstate a journalist of Zee News Ltd whose services were terminated because she became pregnant.
Zee News Ltd challenged this interim order in the Industrial Court and said that the order was illegal and perverse in law and facts. They denied they had indulged in any unfair labour practices. However, the company’s contention was not accepted by the judge who in his order, dated February 13, 2015, dismissed the revision application filed by Zee News Ltd.
The journalist (name withheld on request), who received a termination notice without any enquiry on August 19, 2012, barely a month after she intimated her employers that she was pregnant, had challenged the termination and the Sixth Labour Court in Mumbai ordered
her reinstatement as an interim measure and the payment of wages according to what she received prior to the termination. Alternatively, the judge said, 50 per cent of the wages were to be deposited in court.
The journalist, who began working with Zee News as a reporter from October 2009, remained in permanent employment till August 2012. Her services were terminated on August 19, 2012, without any notice, pay or retrenchment compensation. Trouble began for her when she got married in March that year and applied for leave which was first refused and then granted. In June, she became pregnant and informed the company on June 17 of this.
But on June 30, she received a letter pre-dated for June 1, which said her performance appraisal was unsatisfactory. Shocked and distressed, she fainted due to a fall in blood pressure brought about by stress and was hospitalized on August 3. When she applied for leave, the Zee News bureau chief Vijay Shekhar disapproved the leave on August 16 and her services were terminated three days later, by an email sent to her.
The order, while one step forward in the journalist’s struggle against her termination,is a major fillip for women working in the broadcast media. Indeed, as Vinod Shetty, the lawyer who represented the journalist said, there were few precedents in the media industry of such terminations.
The judge, who examined the Labour Court’s order in detail, observed that prima facie, the termination was violative of Sec 12 of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. There was no material on record to show that the job of a ‘Reporter’ was equivalent to a ‘Supervisor’ or ‘Manager’ or ‘Administrator’ and that prima facie, the employer committed an unfair labour practice and interim relief could be granted.
As it is, the last couple of years haven’t been easy for broadcast media employees. There has been the termination of services of scores of journalists and non-journalist media employees in the media industry in India (TV 18
; Sarada scam
), the overnight closure of television channels like SRM Channel
as well as a suicide
bid by India TV anchor Tanu Sharma on charges of sexual harassment against the senior editors and owners of the companyin June last year.
Unlike print media journalists who are covered by the Working Journalists Act (or at least those who haven’t signed away the protection available under this legislation by entering into individual contracts), broadcast media employees do not have a separate legislation governing their working conditions. Women journalists who spoke to The Hoot on condition of anonymity, said they are particularly vulnerable as marriage or parenthood are viewed with disfavor.