Vol. XL No. 35 August 28, 2016

Save Journalism for Tomorrow

The Delhi Union of Journalists executive on the eve of 70th year of Indian Independence presented a charter to parliamentarians on August 11, 2016 to save journalism and the journalists for tomorrow before it is too late. DUJ expressed its deep concern at the growing attacks on journalists, most of which constitute attacks on freedom of the press. Today media persons in several parts of the country have been targeted for their work; some have been killed; others have been arbitrarily arrested and some event put behind bars; yet others face intimidatory tactics such as defamation cases against them deliberately filed in distant courts.  These attacks have increased in the past two years and virtually cut across states.

DUJ has condemned arbitrary bans on media and blackouts of internet and mobile services during times of conflict, riots and other troubles, though we caution against whipping up divisive tendencies. It demands that the letter and spirit of the Working Journalists Act be protected as far as the print media is concerned as it is being flouted increasingly. Simultaneously, DUJ demands amendment of the Working Journalists Act to provide specific provisions for the protection and safety of journalists in the present wide spectrum media with clear provisions, for compensation for injury and death.

The Majithia Wage Board has not been implemented by most newspaper managements, despite the Supreme Court Judgment. In many cases implementation has been partial or incomplete. Some employees’ services have been terminated for demanding Wage Board pay scales and struggles are being fought by several unions and even individuals.

DUJ demands a new wage board/wage fixation machinery- as it is now due and more and more wage board employees are being reduced to irrelevance or not so voluntarily retired. This wage board machinery should also look into the plight of the freelance journalists as is now being done internationally. The plight of muffusil correspondents been ignored for far too long.

DUJ condemns the increasing practice of bypassing the Wage Board and the Working Journalists Act by employing more and more people on short term contracts, including contracts that illegally bar them from membership of trade unions. Not only this, even in the big newspapers and some news agencies more than 70 percent employees, journalists and non-journalists are on contract even against permanent posts. Some of these contracts and even voucher payments are also an impingement on freedom of the press.

DUJ demands that the Working Journalists Act be amended to include the entire electronic media which today stands outside its purview. It also demands that journalists’ age of retirement under the Act be extended from 58 years, in some cases to 65years and a decent pension scheme be introduced.

DUJ salutes the brave workers of Hindustan Times Group journalists and non journalists who continue their struggle both in court and outside 12 years after they were arbitrarily thrown out by the company. It demands immediate implementation of court judgments in their favour. It pointed out that more than seventeen workers have already died and over a hundred employees are virtually on starvation. It also salutes Jagran, UNI and Sahara workers who are now unionised after the failure of legal authorities to grant them due wages and the wage board.

DUJ condemns the virtual sellout of the Patriot and Link publications in Delhi which were envisaged as cooperative ventures and demands pension for all surviving workers. Indeed – these publications were founded by freedom fighter Aruna Asaf Ali of Quit India movement fame and employees’ PF records have vanished.

DUJ demands Risk Insurance and Health Insurance for all media employees, with premia to be paid by media companies. In this context it mentions that states such as Kerala have taken some lead in having their own schemes to supplement other schemes of pension in some newspapers.

It notes the tendency to discriminate against active trade union bodies like the DUJ in appointments to press accreditation committees and other bodies despite it being the oldest body of journalists and the founder of the journalist movement.

DUJ asks that the government at the centre appoint an Autonomous Media Council comprising journalists, to replace the Press Council in view of the reality that it lacks teeth and is only limited to the print media and with a lopsided  structure. It is like a lottery and virtually ensures that almost the same group of persons adorn it by rotation almost every three years.

In view of the major changes in the media in recent decades it is important to appoint an Autonomous Media Commission to produce a status report on the entire media whose ambit must include both professional and social issues as well as working conditions and wages of all media employees.  This is very important because the last Press Commission was appointed almost 40 years ago, while we are on the seventieth year of our Independence. Meanwhile the media has undergone a sea change with the entry of foreign media, cross media holdings and big monopolies and non media interests in it.