Amidst the Coronavirus outbreak, as India went into complete lockdown first for 21-days and then, an extended period till the 3rd of May, Prime Minister Modi had appealed to business houses to ensure that no employee is fired from their job. He had appealed to people to show compassion and ensure that payments to employees were not reduced as well, considering owing to the lockdown, several employees would not be able to discharge their duties. As the nation deals with the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic and human cost of it, there are certain media houses that are indulging in spreading blatant misinformation and fake news to either create panic or to use the pandemic to target the Modi government.
There were two articles published, one in The Hindu and the other in the Indian Express that did just that – spread fake news at a time the nation is dealing with a pandemic. The articles aimed to target Prasar Bharati, India’s Public Service Broadcaster, and allege that the channel had fired its employees amidst the Coronavirus pandemic despite the directive from the Prime Minister about retaining employees through the lockdown period.
How The Indian Express spread fake news about Prasar Bharati under-paying its employees amidst the Coronavirus lockdown
Indian Express published an article in its section called ‘Delhi Confidential’, headlined ‘Against Appeal’. The article, published on the 16th of April 2020 claimed that Prasar Bharati had underpaid its employees despite the appeal from the Prime Minister.
The article said,
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday reiterated his earlier request to employers to be sensitive to their employees and the Labour and Finance ministries had mentioned in March that even contractual and casual workers should be paid in full and considered on duty for the lockdown days. All India Radio, however, may have ignored the advice of both. Many casual employees, who work as presenters, producers, script-writers, etc, for AIR have only been paid for the days they were called in March, even though many of them had shown willingness to come for more shows”.
Very clearly, the article in the Indian Express aimed to insinuate the following:
- India’s public service broadcaster itself is not adhering to the appeal by the Prime Minister
- That the “employees” of Prasar Bharati were not being paid fully
- That Prasar Bharati was essentially only calling “employees” for work when required and paying them for those days instead of the full amount owed to them under normal circumstances
- That the employees want to work and get paid for it, however, Prasar Bharati, in an effort to cost-cut during the lockdown is not allowing them to do so.
First and foremost, the use of the phrase “May have ignored the advice” itself gives away the charade of this article being “news”. Clearly, Indian Express had no basis to claim what it did other than either gossip or plain malice.
Further, in a letter written to Indian Express by Prasar Bharati, that has been accessed by OpIndia, the entire web of lies have been exposed threadbare.
In the latter, Prasar Bharati says that the article is “factually incorrect and is not only unfair to All India Radio but also is likely to mislead the readers”.
Detailing its position, Prasar Bharati makes the following points:
- The letter written by Prasar Bharati to Indian Express says that the people mentioned by Indian Express are not “employees” of Prasar Bharati but “part-time freelancers who are engaged on a need basis only and are referred to as Casual Assignees. They are paid for the number of assignments done by them”.
- The clarify that there exists no employer-employee relationship between these individuals and Prasar Bharati.
- These casual assignees continue to receive payments from All India Radio for assignments completed as may have been assigned to them during the lockdown period. There is no entitlement for casual assignees to receive payments from All India Radio outside of assignments.
- They are free to accept employments in other public and private organizations of their choice or pursue any other business or profession. Such persons can be teachers, managers, engineers, doctors, lawyers or entrepreneurs and can yet contribute to All India Radio as casual assignees in their spare time.
In fact, sources in Prasar Bharati tell OpIndia that several casual assignees have been working on assignments for delivery of AIR services such as FM Rainbow, Vividh Bharati, AIR News among others during the lockdown while there have also been instances of casual assignees declining assignments due to constraints and other pre-occupations.
It is thus evident that Prasar Bharati is in no way defying the appeal made by the Prime Minister. The casual assignees are being paid for the freelance work they do with the Broadcaster as earlier and the insinuation by Indian Express that Prasar Bharati is paying its “employees” less than what they are owed is factually incorrect and seems completely concocted.
How The Hindu spread fake news about Prasar Bharati firing its employees amidst the Coronavirus lockdown
The Hindu, which is known to spread fake news, seems to have done it again. In an article published on April 16, The Hindu claimed that 80 Radio Jockeys (RJs) of Delhi FM Gold are out of work and not been paid despite govt orders.
Interestingly, in the article itself, the writer admits that they are casual workers. Being casual workers, they are called in only when the ‘need arises’ and hence, there is no employer-employee relationship that exists. Delhi FM Gold is again an All India Radio offering and hence, this hitjob seems designed to target the government itself.
When there exists no employer-employee relationship, and these RJs are called in “when the need arises” to begin with, it is not within anyone’s ‘right’ to demand that they be called in for assignments. In fact, the headline is preposterous as no radio channel possibly functions with 80 RJs on its payroll.
The Press Information Bureau too issued a clarification on the fake news by The Hindu.
#PIBFactCheck— PIB India #StayHome #StaySafe (@PIB_India) April 17, 2020
Claim: A prominent newspaper says 80 Radio Jockeys (RJs) of Delhi FM Gold are out of work and not been paid despite govt orders
Fact: They are not employees, but part-time freelancers, engaged on a need-basis for assignments.They are free to accept jobs elsewhere pic.twitter.com/kz0jSlU8s5
What the CEO of Prasar Bharati said
The CEO of Prasar Bharati, Shashi Shekhar said that, “Several casual assignees drawn from the various panels continue to be engaged across the network of @AkashvaniAIR on a need basis subject to their availability and within the permissible limit of 6 assignments”.
Interestingly, Shashi Shekhar also revealed that there is a limit of 6 assignments per person that is already in place as far as All India Radio is concerned.
He further said that it was unfortunate that the media was publishing misleading details regarding the status of casual assignees without verifying factual position.
It will be the continued endeavour of @prasarbharati across its networks of DD and @AkashvaniAIR to harness young and upcoming talent and give opportunities to new voices and faces through this system of casual assignment after following due process.— Shashi Shekhar (@shashidigital) April 17, 2020
The Hindu and Indian Express both habitually peddle fake news to further their agenda.
Recently, the Indian Express published a report claiming that the coronavirus patients and suspected cases have been segregated into separate wards on the basis of their religion at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital. The report had claimed that Dr Gunvant H Rathod – who is the Medical Superintendent, had said that separate wards had been created for Hindu patients and Muslim patients as per a state government decision.
According to Indian Express, Dr Rathod had said, “Generally, there are separate wards for male and female patients. But here, we have made separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients.” On being asked the reason for such a segregation, Dr Rathod said, “It is a decision of the government and you can ask them.”
However, responding to the misinformation campaign of the Indian Express, the Gujarat government had categorically denied the claims. The Health Department of Gujarat had also clarified that no segregation is being done in the Ahmedabad civil hospital on the basis of religion for coronavirus patients. – article continues after ad — article resumes –
“Corona Patients are being treated based on symptoms, severity etc. and according to treating doctors’ recommendations,” the Gujarat government Health Department said in a statement.