It’s no secret that for journalists at the Times Group, views on social media aren’t exactly personal.
Back in 2014, when most media organisations were taking baby steps towards leveraging Twitter and Facebook, the management at the Times Group squarely told its employees to hand over their passwords and allow the company to post stuff for them. In 2015, the Times Group told its employees that their target variable pay will be linked to their activity on their Twitter handles — they were asked to tweet at least two stories a day.
Cut to 2017 and the group decided it was time, the social media policy evolved a little. Formulated last month, in July, the new BCCL Social Media Policy Guidelines pertain to all public, personal and private accounts managed by employees on social media. The guidelines were sent to journalists at The Economic Times and is yet to be circulated among The Times of India employees.
The guidelines state that an employee can either have two accounts — a Personal and a Company account — or a Single account, of course, encouraging the latter. Interestingly, if you choose to keep two separate accounts, you need to inform the editor about it and “all content related to your primary role at BCCL should be posted solely on the Company account”.
So, basically, journalists can’t tweet their own stories from their personal accounts.
Apart from the usual spiel on intellectual property rights — “the intellectual property and goodwill of your posts on the Company Account will belong to BCCL” — the guidelines also state that “all content and information in your possession even if not posted also belongs to the company”. (Emphasis added to highlight the Times Group may need mind readers to fully execute that clause.)
The most interesting aspect, however, come under Clause B on ‘Opinions and Biases’ that pretty much stops journalists from voicing their opinions on all “public, personal and private accounts”.
Under the ‘you-should-not’ directive, the guidelines state that journalists must not “declare views on political, controversial, or contentious issues or take part in organized action in support of such causes or movements, either by writing, liking, favouriting, or supporting a post”.
It adds that journalists should not state their political preference or “like, favour, recommend or support comments or posts from politicians, bureaucrats or anyone in a partisan or controversial position”.
Neither can one criticise or disparage the work of colleagues or competitors on social media.
Notice that the guidelines ask journalists not to write in a way that seeks to “predict election results”.
During the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, ET journalist Rohini Singh had come under considerable flak for her tweets on the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party contest. ET’s reportage during the elections was also rumoured to be one of the reasons why Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pulled out of the Global Business Summit.
Apart from the infringement on a journalist’s right to a life on social media, beyond promoting BCCL content, the guidelines offer some useful tips for interacting with readers.
And some online etiquette.
We reached out to Times Internet Vice-Chairman Satyan Gajwani and ET editor Bodhisatva Ganguli to know more about the thinking behind the new policy and why the policy even extended to journalists’ personal platforms. The story will be updated if and when they choose to respond.
The Times Group certainly isn’t the only organisation to formulate guidelines on how journalists must behave online. It is true that journalists have an added responsibility on social media simply by virtue of being associated with the news profession — opinions and facts they put out should most certainly be held up to a high level of scrutiny. Towards that end, stressing on the need to be accurate about facts is not too much to ask of reporters. But a total ban on voicing any sort of opinion or even liking or favouriting a post is puzzling, to say the least.