On Wednesday morning, employees of the Times Network woke up to an email about an updated policy on the use of social media. The email was sent by Srivathsan S, the network’s executive vice president and head of human resources.
“We are entering an exciting new phase in our Network’s group,” Srivathsan wrote enthusiastically. “Keeping pace with the ever changing landscape of social media as a growth driver, requires that we revisit our social media policy and make changes to it from time to time.”
The Times Network is the Times Group’s TV division, comprising news channels like Times Now, Mirror Now, ET Now, and Times Now Navbharat. The new social media policy applies to all employees of the network, including “officers, journalists, editors, anchors, reporters, consultants, freelancers, retainers and service providers”.
The policy, a copy of which was accessed by Newslaundry, describes social media platforms as a “channel for distribution of the network’s content” which are “integral and strategic to the company’s operations”.
It lists 19 “dos and don’ts” applicable to all employees. Non-compliance can lead to “removal of social media posts” or even “termination of their services”.
Several of these guidelines make sense: be respectful and polite, alert senior colleagues in cases of “bullying” or “threats”, do not post “discriminatory, offensive or libellous content”, correct “erroneous” posts “quickly and transparently”. Interestingly, the policy also cautions employees against posting anything that is “anti-secular, anti-social or in contravention of any applicable laws, rules and regulations”.
But there’s a lot more.
The policy “advises” employees not to post anything that “goes against the company or its channels’ views or reporting”. Describing the network’s channels as “important opinion leaders”, the policy “strictly forbids” employees from demonstrating “any political affiliation or political preference” on their social media accounts.
It’s also sweeping in its definition of what employees cannot do: “You shall not tweet or retweet any post, content, views or message on any political, religious, administrative, government or law enforcement agencies, parties or ideology. Due to your association with the company, you should be aware that any of your posts/views directly/indirectly relate to the company and its channels. You are therefore required to be cautious while expressing your personal views on any topic, issue or a person/party..."
It also requires the employees to “agree to immediately remove any post or tweet from the said account” operated by them upon being notified by the company.
Another “guideline” in the policy prohibits employees from liking, retweeting or posting any material from “competing channels and other competing media platforms”, across print, broadcast and digital. Doing so amounts to “working in favour of such competitors and against [the] company’s interest”.
There are exemptions to the competitor clause, however, including “syndicated wire sources”, like PTI, ANI Reuters and Associated Press, and “non-competing foreign media”.
Social media editors are tasked with ensuring compliance of this policy and reporting non-compliances to human resources. The policy says that an employee must keep their social media editor, human resource team, and reporting manager informed about “all their accounts including any other online account/handle used or operated by you for any specific purpose.”
The policy has specific rules applicable only to members of editorial teams. These employees are expected to post content related to the specific beats they report on, such as business, crime, education and so on. “This account can also be used for posting personal updates,” the policy says, “if it complies with the stated guidelines of the social media policy.”
Newslaundry sent Times Network a list of questions about the policy. The network’s response is as follows: “This is an Internal Policy and deals with our relationship with our Employees, just as many of our other HR policies. Commenting on or discussing this is an intrusion of the privacy of our organisation.”