This protest meeting raised the growing threats to free speech, the increasing attacks on journalists and media organisations, the denial of labour rights through the Labour Codes and pendency of disputes in courts and the broader threats to Parliamentary democracy, given the en masse suspension of Members of Parliament (MPs) and the arbitrary passing of critical Bills without discussion, in their absence.
In a special message to the meeting, senior advocate, Sanjay Hegde, in a written statement said, “I am happy that Democracy and Journalists’ Rights, are still being sought to be discussed and protected at the office of the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ). I am out of Delhi, but present with you in spirit. To keep insisting on finding out the truth and speaking that truth to power, is the essence of journalism and the best safeguard for democracy. Unfortunately, in an era of post-truth, the conscientious journalist is faced with a choice of succumbing to market forces or being driven out of the media market. While people still want to be informed, they are most gratified, if the information that they got on WhatsApp, is confirmed in print or on television. Media has now become not only a battlefield of misinformation but also an arena of competitive narratives – he cautioned,
While the media has no special concessions in law, its independence has been held to be part of the citizens’ right of informed free speech”. He added, “In a diminishing market for journalistic integrity and rigour, it is heartening to know that there are still bastions of journalistic integrity that are standing out.
A series of raids, arrests and confiscations have not deterred those who have stuck to the straight path” he said.
Hegde further added: “I express my gratitude to those friends from the media, who despite trying circumstances, have not quit fighting the good fight. Whether it be the journalists of Newsclick or Kashmir times, or those who are getting killed on the frontlines in Gaza, the odds seem insurmountable, yet the desire to correctly report the story continues undiminished. I salute this undiminished courage shown by those who have chosen to persist, in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” Recalling the words of George Orwell, he also said, “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” May the revolution of Satyameva Jayate long continue?”
Among the speakers were representatives of teachers’ unions and labour unions, besides several distinguished journalists with special messages by legal expert and commentator Sanjay Hegde and a brief note by All India Lawyers Union General secretary P.V.Surendranath.
From a Conference of the AILU General Secretary in a special message P.V. Surendranath General Secretary said: “I am happy that you all joined together here to resist the present onslaught on media and media freedom; the very fundamental right to freedom of thought and expression. The state –present regime has created an architecture of surveillance and media is under it. The oppressive action on Newsclick is not an aberration; intimidation, threat, coercion and sheer white violence will be used selectively; and that is it. Every other who raises voice is ‘anti national’, the new narrative of the regime. In fact they have become paranoiac. So they fear even voices in the parliament; hence comes en masse suspension and undemocratic passing of draconian laws.
He added: “Now IPC is replaced by Bharathiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS)-more draconian than the “colonial’ IPC. The claim of abrogation of sedition – section 124A IPC is fraud on the people- it reappeared in section 152 of BNS in a more virulent draconian form; any criticism against the regime can be treated as against integrity of country and against nation; and to be punished with life imprisonment.”
Veteran Trade Unionist J. S. Majumdar (CITU), warned that while implementation of the Labour Codes had been stalled because of resistance from workers, they could be implemented after the coming elections. Among others the two Working Journalists Acts that govern working conditions in the media would be totally demolished. He felt that the journalists and working classes have to join in wider struggles to ensure alliances and a democratic upsurge.
Rajeev Kunwar, Delhi University teacher and concerned activist, part of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA), spoke of the mass retrenchment of ad hoc teachers who did not subscribe to the ruling party ideology. He warned that the growing centralisation of both governance and of finances through measures like GST threatens the autonomy of the states and their universities. He said during the Covid period decisions like FYUP, a semester system and New Education Policy were brought in without debate. He said many policy decisions are now taken at the behest of global finance capital.
Eminent journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta spoke of the attacks on Newsclick, the raids on homes of 88 journalists and staff and the indefinite seizure of 300 personal electronic devices including mobiles, laptops, hard discs etc. that are the basic tools of our trade. He reminded that Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakraborty continue to be in jail while the UAPA threat looms over many others.
S.K. Pande, president of the NAJ and vice president of the DUJ asserted that the last decade had seen journalism and the journalists battered and bruised as never before in an undeclared Emergency amidst dark shadows of creeping fascism and McCarthysm with McCarthyist style witch hunts thrown in. A classic case he added, was the case of NewsClick.
Independent journalism, he added, was being specially targeted. By early next month, Editor Prabir Purkayastha and his colleague would have spent around ninety days in custody. Frequent attacks on the Wire, Kashmir Times, and journalists in Kashmir also laid bare a series of attacks to name a few. The wage fixation machinery is now virtually dead as are all labour laws and journalists’ rights.
Small and medium newspapers and cooperatives are virtually dead and the Urdu press are reduced to nothingness despite its glorious past. The Press Information Bureau is a virtual police information bureau and the veteran journalists’ category, and Parliament central hall passes for journalists news gathering have been reduced to nothingness.
Prominent journalist, Bhasha Singh said we face a crisis of democracy, not just journalism. The mainstream media no longer report news, they report according to a set, dictated agenda. People in a different fields are facing many problems but these are not reported. It is vital now to use small platforms everywhere and connect these to bigger platforms and struggle to promote democracy and rights, she said.
Another renowned journalist, and feature writer, Rashme Sehgal said there was a lack of transparency and secret hands behind many official decisions. She cited the Agniveer as an example of a scheme that most army persons oppose but for some reason had been pushed through. The top brass did not dare to oppose it openly. Faraz Ahmed, also representing several years in the journalists’ profession, said that democracy had faced a severe battering and journalism was part of that, with Godi media reducing the media to a farce.
Speaking in solidarity, General Secretary of KUWJ Delhi Unit Dhanasumod spoke of the bright spark of some relief provided in the case of Siddique Kappan fought by the KUWJ both inside and outside the court, but he continues to suffer the agony, he added.
Senior journalist T.K. Rajalakshmi said in the media we face attacks from both within and without. We have to face the employers’ arbitrary decisions, agenda diktats and even retrenchments. The government too is increasingly trying to control media, including social media, through moves like the Telecom Bill and the Broadcasting Bill. However, she said, we must not be disheartened but organise and resist censorship through such means.
The meeting was coordinated by DUJ president Sujata Madhok, general secretary A.M.Jigeesh, among many others at short notice. The meet with slogans and the symbolic lighting of candles as a sign of protest.