The sacked RJs at a press conference in Kolkata (photo: The Hindu)
All India Radio (AIR) has put its foot in its mouth. Well, not literally, but the state-owned broadcaster has shown that it cares little for merit or for that matter, subtlety. Its arbitrary approach to contract staff – who are called ‘casual’, as opposed to permanent staff – was on display last week in the callous manner in which it fired its contract radio jockeys simply because it felt they were too old – over 35 years of age. AIR has now been forced to back down because these ‘old’ RJs protested, but not before the absurdity of what passes as management at the broadcaster was made abundantly clear.
The saga began last October when a communiqué was issued at the AIR station in Kolkata, signed in the name of AIR Director-General Fayyaz Sheheryar, that in order to “infuse freshness in the presentation of programmes on FM Rainbow and FM Gold”, RJs should be a maximum of 30 years old. Then in December 2013, the same management decided to be magnanimous and increased the limit to 35 years. In typical bureaucrat-speak, there was no mention of quality or experience, only of age.
The aging RJs hurriedly formed an association, the AIR Broadcasters' Welfare Association, Kolkata (AIRBWAK) and approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), which issued a stay on the management’s plans till August 8.
Sure enough, from midnight on August 9 around 100 RJs in Kolkata found themselves out of work.
"It is absolutely irrational to terminate our services just because we have crossed 35. There is no scientific reasoning that says that once a person crosses 35, the voice modulation ceases to sound good. Moreover, most of us feed our families from our income. About 85% of us are women," said Avantika Ghosh, honorary general secretary, AIRBWAK.
"This age limit is being experimented on us so as to test if it can be worked out in other cities too," claimed AIRBWAK member Amitava Bhattacharya.
In response, an AIR official defended the plan. “FM programmes are primarily aimed at youngsters. At times, we received complaints that our jockeys are very boring and too mature for the programmes they present,” he told The Hindu.
Once the out-of-work RJs began complaining, however – they held a press conference in Kolkata – AIR began receiving bad press over its move, forcing the management to take a “sympathetic view” and relent on the initial plan.
AIR has now agreed to allow RJs above 35 years to play on in its FM programmes if they pass a voice test and do not sound “too mature and boring”.
“We have no plans whatsoever to sack anybody. We will conduct a voice test for all and ensure each casual radio jockey and announcer gets a chance to prove their versatility in front of the microphone,” AIR DG Sheheryar told The Hindu newspaper.
Again, a bureaucrat’s way of solving the problem: allow the oldies to stay, but first make them pass a test.