Calling for Phased Action… National Alliance of Journalists Blasts Labour Codes and Attacks on Journos…. A day long meeting of the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) working committee in Delhi on Sunday, resolved to continue the fight against government labour codes and other labour laws as they smacked of being employers codes rather than labour codes- designed to kill the Working Journalists Act and all security of service.
The meeting specifically blasted moves to repeal the Working Journalists Acts and convert them into badly drafted Labour Codes. These Acts, specifically designed for the profession of journalism and its special needs and working conditions, cannot be arbitrarily lumped with the requirements and working conditions of other workers. We strongly object to this undermining of our hard won rights, including the right to fixed hours and leaves, regular Wage Awards, three months’ retrenchment pay, bonus, gratuity and other benefits. The codes really don’t meet any of our long standing professional demands including an end to the contract system of employment, a permanent wage fixation machinery, a special law for protection of journalists, provision of adequate pensions, accident insurance and formalization of a fair remuneration system for freelancers and mofussil correspondents- the meeting noted.
The NAJ felt that the highly objectionable Occupational Safety and Health Code be immediately scrapped. The government has ignored our demands for amendment of the Working Journalists Act to include electronic and digital news media and instead has axed the Act itself. We resolve to undertake joint actions with the central trade unions to defend our rights, in common cause and resolved to work on a minimum programme with other professional journalists’ bodies too.
It was resolved that there would now be a two pronged national alliance of journalists -one a professional side and the other a trade union side . The professional side would work on issues such as increasing attacks on the freedom of the press and on journalists and the other on issues affecting the dignity of the profession like wages working hours and attempts to reduce journalism to official drum beating of the forces of statusquo. In effect attempts should be made to save journalism and journalists for tomorrow not only the print but in the electronic and digital media. It was decided to approach both the standing committee on labour as well as to seek legal advice besides preparing for a phased struggle on common issues, with Central Trade Unions and our own bodies.
Attacks on Journalists
The meeting expressed grave concern at attacks on journalists in India, including deadly physical attacks, death threats and vicious targeted trolling on social media. We noted the growing climate of fear and intimidation in which journalists work to get the news out. Shujaat Bukhari and Gauri Lankesh are only two examples of the prominent journalists who have been gunned down.
Our plight is evident in conflict torn areas like Kashmir where a physical lock down and an internet ban over the past 50 days has made our work extremely difficult. We demand that the ban be lifted immediately so that journalists can report freely.
Journalists in conflict areas like Chhattisgarh and parts of the North East too are often pincered between the demands of armed militants and the security forces. Many of our fellow journalists in Chhattisgarh have been prosecuted and imprisoned in recent years.
Journalists who have dared to report against the mining mafia face intimidation and some have been killed in fake accidents.
The meeting noted that in a climate of growing intolerance where many people have been arrested and jailed for tweets and facebook posts, journalists are particularly vulnerable. We demand that Parliament swiftly enact a special law to protect journalists and human rights workers, given the many threats we face in our daily work today.The NAJ notes with alarm the fact that the Indian government ordered 67 percent of the total internet shutdowns in the world in 2018.Several international media reports have highlighted this issue.
NAJ points out that the internet is the primary communication and research tool used by Indian journalists and shutdowns impact our work badly. It becomes nearly impossible to send field reports, photographs and data to our news desks. We demand that the Government rethink this policy as in the absence of communication systems, there is a bigger danger of misinformation getting spread.
On Media Credibility
The meeting regrets that the media is being more aggressively misused by corporate owners to promote their business and political interests than ever before. Journalists, particularly TV anchors and editors, are being pushed to take a pro-government line. Several who did not comply with these demands have been fired. The one-sided reportage and commentary by a vast number of self-serving TV news anchors, egged on by proprietors and politicians, has destroyed much of the credibility of the mainstream media. The spread of fake news further destroys media credibility. Despite vigilance, even mainstream media sometimes falls prey to such fake news. We call upon the Government to stop obsessively monitoring the news media and stop trying to influence, arm twist and ‘persuade’ journalists and news establishments to toe the official line.
The NAJ demands that Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media owners take responsibility for the trolling, doxing and hounding of journalists on their sites. We ask them to take stronger measures to curb the misuse of their platforms for personal and political vendetta. Too many of our colleagues have been victims of vicious troll attacks of foul language, innuendos, threats and even death threats on social media.
Women journalists in particular have faced personal attacks, sexual allegations, the spread of morphed nude pictures and the foulest of abuses. These attacks take a serious toll of media persons’ mental, physical and emotional health. NAJ regrets that measures taken by the social companies have been singularly inadequate in protecting the dignity, safety and independence of journalists.
On Dalit and Tribal issues
The NAJ regrets the poor representation of the issues concerning the marginalised sections of the society like minorities, dalits and tribals and of their living conditions. It asks the media to focus on these deprived sections better and give proper coverage of their plight so as to generate a healthy debate on those conditions. The NAJ also regrets the lip sympathy of the media in case of atrocities against those sections instead of giving a serious coverage to these. The NAJ regrets the fact that there is no room for these sections in news rooms and editorial boards which perpetuates the imbalance in the media coverage.
The meeting demanded early steps for setting up a proper Media Council of the entire media rather than just a Press Council after consultation with all stake holders. It also demanded an autonomous Media Commission but broadly in the lines of the first and second Press Commission almost five decades old.