NEW DELHI: The 16th Lok Sabha is coming to an end in a few days. We, National Alliance of Journalists, a national alliance that includes the oldest body of journalists in Delhi, the Delhi Union of Journalists, and over 7000 journalists countrywide would like to place before you a plea to save journalism and the journalists for tomorrow in view of increasing physical attacks, deteriorating service conditions and a virtual hire and fire atmosphere despite a statutory Working Journalists Act.

Conditions in the print, the digital and in the electronic media are deteriorating. Media workers today have no protection whatsoever and are caught in a wave of layoffs with little remedy. Cross-media holdings, company mergers, short term contracts, voucher payments, an increasing army of freelancers and moffusil correspondents, mostly surviving on a pittance as wages, the stranglehold of a national and international monopoly press, and virtual killing of surviving medium sized papers and journals multiply our woes along with the menace of contract employment even against permanent posts.

Unfortunately, the 16th Lok Sabha has not spent much time to discuss the future of the fourth estate in the country, not even the issue of protection to journalists. This could probably be the first time in India’s history that attacks against Press have grown in an unprecedented manner.

We urge you to consider these points and take it up in Parliament and in your political parties:

1. That a wage board is overdue with the Majithia Wage Board constituted way back in 2007 that was made applicable from 2011. Therefore it is our primary demand that a new wage board be constituted without further delay and a permanent wage fixation machinery be devised by the board for the entire media industry.

2. In view of the highly insecure working conditions of electronic and digital media employees, we further demand that the Working Journalists Act be made applicable to them too and early steps be taken to end the wave of hire and fire which has caught on there also.

3. That the said Wage Board also take into account the plight of other workers in the electronic and digital media just as the wage boards took into account the plight of the press workers of the print media. Further, it must make adequate provisions for decent remuneration to rural and mofussil correspondents and freelancers.

4. Non-implementation of the previous wage board should be made a cognizable offence and pending cases should be resolved as per the deadline set by the Supreme Court.

5. We request that the new Wage Board be given a time-line for formulating its recommendations and its implementation, with an express provision for continuous hearings and for interim relief within a period of two years. Adequate remuneration must be recommended for journalists working as stringers in rural areas, at district and village level.

6: We demand that a genuine National Pension Scheme be implemented all over the country for both the journalists and press workers of the Electronic and Print media, on the lines of the Kerala model. The present contributory scheme through the EPFO provides a pittance.

7. We are of the view that an autonomous National Media Commission be instituted to review, research and study the state of the entire media today and make appropriate time-bound recommendations to foster democracy and free speech as well as the independence of journalists by ensuring decent wages and working conditions. Such a model commission is long overdue, given that the first and second Press Commissions were appointed more than four decades ago. Since then, sweeping changes have taken place in the widening media space, with the entry of various forms of electronic and digital media, the rapid growth in cross-media holdings and the growing influence of foreign players.

8. We feel it is high time that the present outdated Press Council is replaced by a wide-spectrum National Media Council that is truly representative of the various stakeholders and includes senior journalists, media experts, media critics, and trade unions from the entire media spectrum as well as legal experts and representatives of industry and government. There should be gender balance in these appointments. Such proposals have been repeatedly made to past governments. Similarly, the National and State Accreditation Committees should be truly representative of the journalistic community and various stakeholders.

9. The National Alliance of Journalists and the DUJ expresses deep concern at the growing attacks on journalists in the country and the killings of journalists. It is urged that the Government of India provide protection through legislation to working journalists in print and broadcast media, on par with government employees on duty, which will reduce attacks on journalists at the field level.

10. We demand a risk insurance cover for journalists, given the hazardous conditions in which many of us work daily, both in conflict zones and violence prone areas. We demand an end to impunity, with swift investigation of all threats and attacks and deterrent punishment to those who attack media workers.

11. Regarding non-implementation of the Majithia Wage Board, we urge that fast track labour courts be appointed in all states, to do justice to media workers. The state of implementation is tardy. The state of the labour courts too requires immediate attention, as workers’ cases languish for years together, leading to further victimisation and some deaths.

12. We are also shocked that the Union Government proposes to repeal the Working Journalists Act, in sleight of hand fashion, by quietly including it in an innocuous sounding “Labour Code on Occupational Health and Safety”.

This is one of the four Labour Codes that the Government has drafted to replace numerous labour legislations, on the specious grounds that the laws are complicated and thwart ‘ease of doing business’. These Codes, formulated at the behest of industry, do not concern themselves with the average person’s ‘ease of working and living’. Rather they are an attack on the hard won rights of working people. The Central Trade Unions have already opposed the arbitrary introduction of these Labour Codes.

We call for your urgent attention and active intervention on all these issues to save journalism and journalists for tomorrow.

Yours sincerely,

SK Pande
Sujata Madhok
Koteswara Rao