Journalists who are being made redundant as a result of the Independent closing its print editions are being forced to sign muting agreements forbidding them from saying anything publicly about the newspaper in order to receive redundancy pay.
The redundancy settlements, which staff must sign in order to receive redundancy pay, contain confidentiality clauses prohibiting them from speaking out publicly about the closures of the print editions and the newspaper’s management without written authorisation, the Guardian reports.
Clauses within the agreement forbid staff from making any statements about the Independent’s parent company ESI Media, its staff, and those publications which fall under its umbrella, including the Evening Standard. The clauses even bars them from talking about the agreement itself. This includes statements on “the internet” or to any “publication, journal or newspaper, blog, website, or radio or television programme”.
Breaching these confidentiality clauses could leave staff liable to having payments reclaimed “as a debt”, meaning they could include interest and any legal fees incurred.
What’s more, it is unclear if there is a time limit on the silencing.
The Drum contacted ESI Media for comment, with a spokesperson saying:
"Out of respect to all the staff members involved, the discussions remain confidential and we have no further comment to make."
The agreements have been distributed in anticipation of the looming closure of the Independent’s print edition this Saturday (26 March), after the Independent on Sunday got its final issue last weekend (20 March).
Of the 160 journalists currently working at the newspaper 100 are expected to lose their job when the print business is wound up this weekend.
Journalists at the Independent who manage to keep their jobs once the newspaper goes digital-only may see their pay halved, it has been reported.
ESI Media said 25 new digital content roles would be created at the online-only publisher, while 34 editorial roles will transfer to Johnston press and the remaining journalists will be asked to take voluntary redundancy.
A statement from the NUJ was highly critical of the new focus as it said would impact the quality of the content.
The NUJ national organiser, Laura Davison, said: “The pay and conditions on the digital side are worse than on the print side. Experienced staff are being lost because of low budgets and current digital staff have concerns about pay, workloads and other issues.
“This will surely have an effect on the quality of the product. To succeed it will have to invest in journalism and there are few signs that this is part of the plan.”