The Times of India’s new contract to journalists: Giving up personal tweets is “in YOUR interest”

The Times of India is India’s largest selling English newspaper.
The Times of India is India’s largest selling English newspaper.
Image: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee
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The Times of India issued a new social media policy on Wednesday, a day after Quartz reported on a bizarre new contract that would have forced journalists to establish official accounts, hand over passwords, and allow the employer to post on their behalf.

The bottom line: India’s largest media company isn’t actually changing much. A copy of the new contract circulated among employees on the night of Aug. 27 and has been reviewed by Quartz. While a lot of the language changed from legalese to plainer speak, the policy retains most of the controversial clauses, including the one that encourages employees to convert their personal social media accounts to official ones and handover passwords to the company.

There are two main changes. An earlier clause that said the company could continue to post updates from an employee’s account even after they leave, has been removed. Secondly, the clause that earlier prohibited an employee from posting news links on her personal social media account has now become more ambivalent. It states:

If you are planning to maintain two user accounts, then the company expects that all content related to your primary role at BCCL should be solely posted on your Company User Account, though it can be re-tweeted/shared from your Personal User Account.

It is not clear whether that means journalists can or cannot post news and related links on their personal account. But they can retweet them off the official accounts. Adding to confusion, the company said it strongly encourages staffers to maintain one account, which by default, becomes the official account.

Initially, a contract circulated among journalists on 14 August. Many journalists sought further clarification. In response to Quartz’s story this week, Satyan Gajwani, the CEO of Times Internet Ltd and the son-in-law of Times Group vice chairman Samir Jain, tweeted that a new policy was being put in place with ”major changes.”

He did not respond to a direct message on Twitter late on Wednesday night seeking comment. A BCCL spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The Times of India’s new document assures employees it intends to expand its social media presence. So all journalists are expected, as part of their duties at Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, as the parent company is known, to create a company user account (distinct from a personal user account) on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The display name of these accounts should be the name of the employee, suffixed with the brand she works for. So if Paul worked for Times of India, his company Twitter id would be @PaulTOI. If he worked for Times Now, it would be @PaulTimesNow

The new policy says employees are free to keep a separate personal social media account, but strongly encourages them to not do that. The official policy offers three reasons why employees should not hold personal social media accounts:

The Company would prefer that users maintain a single account, to keep a genuine and honest approach to the consumer at large, and frankly, because it’s easier to manage. But it’s up to you to decide what you prefer. If you prefer to keep separate accounts, please inform your brand representative of your personal accounts’ usernames. But it will be in YOUR interest to keep One User Account.

As before, personal social media accounts should be disclosed to the company.

When staffers leave the company, they can drop the name of their employer and retain the company user account. BCCL will continue to own rights to the material posted while they were employed though.

And material that is posted from the company user account shall be along the lines of ”the views published by the respective Editor/Newspaper you work for and compliment/supplement the news/story as developed in the said Newspaper.”

The new contract, like the old one, offers employees the option of converting their existing personal social media accounts into company accounts. Irrespective of whether it is a converted account or a new account, BCCL will have access to the passwords to the company accounts at all times and can post any material they deem fit. Followers will have no way of telling whether a tweet by @PaulTOI has been posted by him or a company executive or indeed an advertiser. Because the contract says the company can post “news or other material” to these accounts at its sole discretion.

If needed, Company may request access Password(s), for the Company User Account, which shall be used by you on behalf of the Company to make posts. Company retains administration rights of the Company User Account, which shall be made accessible to the Company on demand for fulfilling any statutory obligations/compliance of laws/or otherwise. It is understood that sharing of such details of the Company User Account shall be an integral part of your contract with the Company and shall be disclosed and shared with the Company at any time.

The Company may upload news or other material on the Company User Account through any means, including automated upload streams, at its sole discretion, during your Contract with the Company.

From the examples cited in the contract, the policy seems applicable to employees of Times of India, Economic Times, Navbharat Times, Mumbai Mirror, Radio Mirchi, Indiatimes, Times Now and ET Now. These are some of India’s leading media brands and together employ hundreds of journalists, including many who are prominent voices on Twitter.

Through its Times Local Partners unit, Times Internet has brought a number of global digital media brands to India, including Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Business Insider, Techradar, and most recently, Huffington Post.

Like in the previous contract, the company claims unhindered access to all followers/friends of company user accounts. Any future revenue from such accounts shall belong solely to the company.

Toward the end, the contract offers a hat-tip to the evolving nature of social media, and the necessity to change with the times:

As social media evolves, this policy too will evolve and basis feedback and interaction, we will continue to refine it.