Can Journalist Unions Return To Past Glory?


Outraged by search and seizure operations in homes the wireActing on an FIR filed by BJP-IT cell chief Amit Malviya, founding editors of the Delhi Police Crime Branch, several press organizations and associations issued statements strongly condemning the act. These include Editors Guild of India, Press Club of India, Mumbai Press Club, Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) and People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), Press Association, Working News Cameramen Association, Indian Journalist Union, Digipub News India Foundation, Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), among others.

Press organizations, associations and clubs condemned the recent injustices against the slain scribes Siddique Kappan, Fahad Shah, Mohammad Zubair, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, Leftist rationalist and writer Gauri Lankesh, and many others. India’s ranking dropped from 142 to 150 in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, following reports of attacks, surveillance “snoop gates”, and since the Narendra Modi government came to power, these press organizations have become increasingly embroiled in struggles for protection and security. their members and the brotherhood in general.

The obstacles are getting bigger and bigger

Journalism has been an unorganized sector for the past 20 years, and most journalists have been hired only as contract workers. Little by little, the freedom of the press is being reduced.

In the recent past, the government repealed the Journalists’ Labor Act 1955 and the Wage Fixation Act 1956 without providing an alternative wage board structure. It passed the Technology (Intermediate Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, which critics say is a strategy to control digital news, social media and OTT platforms that have begun to thrive in the lockdown. Then, after the Center used its discretionary powers to introduce new rules governing the Press Council of India Act (1978), the Press Council quietly shut down journalists and newspapers with an all-India presence while the new board was set up in 2022, and opened its doors. for registered organizations such as press clubs that are only present in one state.

Glorious past

Until almost two decades ago, the press union was much more influential. After independence, the Federation of Indian Journalists was the first organization to form the first post-independence press commission. The first press committee also formed the Press Council, which was essential for journalists to receive the necessary accreditation. Around the same time in 1950, the Press Club of India was founded, and like other organizations, most of its founding fathers were part of the freedom movement.

The Indian Journalists Union (IJU), a federation of state unions of journalists and associations like BUJ, DUJ, KWJU, the largest all-India organization was formed. The Working News Cameramen’s Association (WNCA) was formed in the late 1980s after realizing that the problems faced by electronic media such as photojournalists in the field were different from those of print journalists. While IJU relies on trade union registration laws, WNCA is registered under the Associations Act and is not a trade union. This is only a brief outline, as the origins and general timeline of many other Indian press organizations remain undocumented. However, these bodies can make or break a news story in due time.

SN Sinha, president, head of WNCA, remembers when all the newspapers in Delhi went on strike on Budget Day in the 90s. The next day, not a single newspaper appeared in the capital! This was before television came to India, and newspapers were sacred to the public. Sinha, who was then part of the DJU, recalls that the call for the Budget Day strike was made by the then Labor Minister, PA Sagma, and the government showed no inclination to provide a new pay structure every five years as stipulated in the 1955 Act. .

“On Budget Day, the phones kept ringing, they were pressuring us to end the strike, but we held on. At the 11th hour, before the Budget was announced, Parliament announced the creation of a new salary structure, and we were called again to end the strike. But the strike started early in the morning, as offices were closed and journalists in their homes,” says Sinha.

The head of WNCA recalls other cases. When an FIR was filed against journalist Pawan Jaiswal, who exposed a government school in Mirzapur for serving salt with roti as midday meal, Sinha and other journalists protested at the district attorney’s office and promptly withdrew the case. After photojournalist Mohammad Akbar and his son fell off a scooter and the latter suffered a brain haemorrhage, the DUJ pressured the government to dip into a journalists’ welfare fund, which was eventually awarded Rs 1.50 lakh as compensation. After the then DSP smashed the camera of a PTI reporter, WNCA immediately got together and put pressure on the police commissioner and the home minister, and the Delhi police had to pay the scribe his camera.

Veteran journalist K Sreenivas Reddy, IJU president, recalls the time when pay scales were in place that allowed a working journalist to have a work-life balance. In addition to defining the salary structure for the nine media categories, the law states that all working journalists should have six working hours, not eight, and that those working at night should have a five and a half hour shift. “Reporters and cameramen should be given only one task to complete before moving on to the next,” says Reddy.

The Union of Andhra Journalists, of which Reddy is a part, fought and successfully brought it back Andhra Jyothi, now the nation’s No. 2 daily, which was shut down due to fraudulent management practices. Take it too EenaduTelangana’s leading daily, which went from the labor court to the Supreme Court after an 11-year battle and won on behalf of 11 workers that the paper should be reappointed and compensated by paying more than one crore.

In addition, if the editor or a working journalist were to disapprove of the establishment’s editorial policy and leave, they would immediately receive wages as determined by the commission. “These rights no longer exist. Journalists are now equated with sales representatives in labor courts. The government does not want to see the existence of the fourth estate. And just like soap manufacturing, the management treats the newspaper/magazine as a product,” says Reddy.

Help column

For the journalists who died due to Covid, IJU and WNCA followed the state and central government to offer compensation to the families. In fact, Press Club of India (PCI) president Umakant Lakhera says that for the first time in 42 years, all 21 managing committee members of his board won the PCI elections, creating history, “only because we worked hard, organized freely. vaccines to journalists , to their families, drivers, maids.”

Lakhera says PCI has shaped the careers of many journalists because of the exposure it provides. For instance, he says, the FTII faculty in Pune recently organized two training courses with PCI members “to provide technical training to our journalists, to become YouTubers, make websites and so on”. It also publishes a monthly magazine called PCI the scribes the news which highlights the voices of the journalism fraternity. Also, to boost the morale of its members, WNCA organizes a photo exhibition every two years at the Lalit Kala Akademi.

Fight ahead

In view of the above, press bodies have called for a press body to replace the press council, creating a nexus between print, broadcast, digital and cable media. Joint statement by the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and DUJ in 2020. They stressed the need for a media committee that would include media, judiciary and other experts that would include the media, monopoly issues and inter-media media, monopoly issues and inter-media media. stakes, lack of revenue models other than government and private advertising, etc.

Can unions come out stronger again?

Despite the weakening of unions and continued restrictions on press freedom, veteran journalists are confident that the situation will turn around. “No one expected that this country would gain independence after 200 years of British rule. The IT industry was union-free after the liberalization, privatization, globalization phase, but now unions are back in that sector,” says Reddy. Even if young journalists are not aware of the golden age of unionization, the fact that many of them speak without fear on various issues means that there is hope, because they are taking ethical positions, and not within any organization.’ , feels Geeta Seshu, a member of the voluntary and non-funded organization, Free Speech Collective, and the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ).

“I think the press unions will make a comeback. We have weakened in metros, but in smaller places, we are much stronger. Initially, people enjoyed the increase in wages brought about by the contract system, but now they are feeling the pinch. The US only has contract workers, but also very strong associations and unions with fixed wage structures, and if you’re not a member of the photojournalist association there, you won’t get a job. This system exists in many European countries, and I hope it will come to India as well,” says Sinha.

On October 29, 30 and 31, around 300 journalists attended the IJU’s national conference in Chennai, which passed 14 resolutions, including a wage revision. The organization plans to dedicate a day in January 2023 as All India Save Journalism Day. “Indian journalism, democracy is at risk. When journalism dies, democracy dies,” concluded Reddy.

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