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Open Letter to MPs and Leaders of Political Parties… Wanted a Charter for Press Freedom & Journalists’ Dignity..

Dear Sir/Madam,

The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), have called upon leaders of all political parties and Parliamentarians to incorporate a charter of press freedom in their election platforms, to foster a diverse, free, independent and pluralist media. Immediate remedial measures are required to ensure safety and security of journalists in India who have been under the heaviest attack over the past ten years, as reflected in the World Press Freedom Index and worsening service conditions in media. There have been mass layoffs and many pushed to a precarious existence as freelancers. Those who are employed are forced to sign contracts of bondage to media barons. Misuse of the law by both the Central government and State governments to prosecute journalists is reducing freedom of the press to a farce.

Independent journalism in all its manifestations, print, electronic and digital is going through an era of undeclared press censorship with the media increasingly corporatised and co-opted through a carrot and stick approach. Extensive advertising by governments has bought over large sections of the media. Democracy stands gravely endangered.

In a joint statement today NAJ President S.K.Pande, DUJ General Secretary Sujata Madhok, NAJ Secretary General N. Kondaiah and APWJF general secretary G.Anjaneyulu have called for the setting up of a common national Media Council for print, electronic and digital media along with a Media Commission of experts to look into conditions prevailing across the media, including media monopolies and cross-media holdings. The Press Council of India came into existence with the recommendations of the First Press Commission. After the Second Press Commission there has been nothing for around 60 years, although the entire media structure has changed. Surely the media cannot be guided by jungle law purely at the hands of market forces, national and international, or made into drum beaters of the powerful.

The Working Journalists Act, 1955 and the Payment of Wages Act, 1958 were enacted to improve the conditions of journalists at the request of Sri. Manikonda Chalapathi Rau, the well-known journalist and the father of the journalist movement, during the reign of the first Prime Minister of the country, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The Government of the day has repealed these protective laws, replacing them with Labour Codes. As a result, the condition of working journalists in the country will further deteriorate. The Codes severely curtail the rights and entitlements of both media employees and the entire working class. They enable the ‘ease of doing business’ while undermining the average citizen’s ‘ease of working and living’.

The eleven point charter demands:

Early setting up of a common Media Council for print, electronic and digital media.

Setting up of a Media Commission to study the entire media like the First and Second Press Commissions and to recommend remedial measures, in view of sweeping changes since the onset of globalization and the deplorable condition of journalists and non-journalists in media establishments.

Putting responsible checks on cross-media ownership.

Immediate steps to help the growth of national language news and feature agencies through a National Newspaper and Feature Agencies Development Corporation.

Implementing the last Wage Board recommendations as per the historic Supreme Court ruling of February 7th, 2014. Setting up fast track courts with time bound implementation in view of pendency of cases.

Proper Risk Insurance cover and Pension Scheme for journalists.

Ensuring a one-year package to the premier national news agency United News of India to help sustain regular payment of long delayed salaries and payments to retrenched employees including their gratuity and other dues. Some of them are in critical condition. Similarly attempts has been made to discriminate against another premier national news agency the PTI and the once virtually self reliant UNI Urdu news service is virtually surviving in what is being celebrated as the 200 years of the Urdu press.

A recent amendment to the IT Rules, 2021 gives not just the Press Information Bureau but also all Union government ministries and departments the powers to demand that news they object to be taken down by social media companies. We demand that these Rules aimed at censoring the small, independent digital media be withdrawn immediately. Other moves such as the reported inclusion of digital media in the draft Registration of Press and Periodicals Bill, 2022 to controls news and views carried on digital media through any electronic device must be reviewed.

India’s record of imposing Internet bans is the worst in the world, with 665 shutdowns from 2012 to July 2022. Shutdowns seriously impede the work of journalists who are unable to send their news reports, stories and photographs at such times. Shutdowns have been imposed for everything from riots to stopping cheating in exams! This abuse of law must be stopped through appropriate rules and guidelines.

The laws relating to Sedition, Defamation and even arbitrary detention laws like the UAPA are being increasingly misused to arrest and prosecute journalists. Journalists have been booked even for tweets and Facebook posts. These laws should be reviewed and repealed to prevent their misuse.

A law to protect journalists from arbitrary arrests and malicious prosecution is the need of the hour.
Similarly fast track courts for implementation of Majithia Award are urgently needed in a time where at least an interim relief is overdue for the journalists at large.

We sincerely hope that you will consider our demands and respond to them with the earnestness and immediacy they deserve. Today journalism, independent journalism, in particular is battered and bruised as never before.



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