Flagging the ongoing incarceration of senior editor Prabir Purkayastha and several Kashmiri journalists like Fahad Shah, Sajad Gul, Irfan Mehraj, Aasif Sultan and Majid, the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) , the Delhi Union of Journalists(DUJ) the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) the Andhra Pradesh Working Journalists Federation (APWJF) and associated members from various parts of the country have made public a 14 point charter of demands related to press freedom and wage protection of journalists. The charter is addressed to members of Parliament and members of various political parties have called for immediate steps to save and revive journalism in view of increasing threats to press freedom and the rights and dignity of journalists.
The NAJ, DUJ, KUJ and APWJF have further demanded a Media Commission of India in the lines of the First and Second Press Commissions, end to the Labour Codes and increasing attempts to gag the media.
Noting that “several journalists, including eminent editor Prabir Purkayastha, are in jail for exposing this government and the forces that control this government. Journalists such as Siddique Kappan are facing criminal charges, including UAPA charges, after spending years in prison. In Kashmir many journalists such as Fahad Shah, Sajad Gul, Irfan Mehraj, Aasif Sultan and Majid Hyderi have been arrested while most other journalists live in fear. Since 2010, as many as 15 journalists and two media managers have been charged under UAPA, seven are still behind bars. Sedition charges have been filed against leading journalists like Vinod Dua, Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai and others.
Besides, defamation charges have been filed against journalists like Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Ravi Nair and many others. Raids on media, seizure of electronic devices and harassment of media employees is becoming another menace.”
The charter has stressed the fact that there has been no Wage Boards for the past 13 years, nor any willingness to constitute another one, or even grant interim relief.
The letter is timed with the current session of Parliament.
The detailed charter of demands, filed by all four unions representing 1,000 journalists relates to the Free Functioning of the Media and may be read below:
“The media has an effective role to play in a democratic society. Leaders of our national movement upheld this concept after Independence and the Constitution too values freedom of expression as a fundamental right. This concept was the base for passing the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act (known as Working Journalists Act) and the Working Journalists (Fixation of rates of wages) Act in 1955 and 1958 by the Parliament of our country.
“The works of two Press Commissions were also broadly in this direction. The Parliament too has played a role in enriching this principle of ensuring a free press in the country and the rights and dignity of journalists and co-workers-all of which are being unfortunately negated lately.
“The term of the 17th Lok Sabha will end within a few months. This winter session will be the last full-fledged session of the 17th Lok Sabha. As the country is moving towards the next general elections in 2024, we, the media fraternity would like to make some submissions before the Parliamentarians and leaders of political parties.
“As trade unions of experienced journalists who cover and write about a myriad issues and problems in the country we have no qualms in saying that the last five years have been the most dangerous years for journalists and journalism in this country. The country’s ranking in the Freedom of Press Index has consistently declined during these years and stands as low as 161 out of 180 countries.
“Several journalists, including eminent editor Prabir Purkayastha, are in jail for exposing this government and the forces that control this government. Journalists such as Siddique Kappan are facing criminal charges, including UAPA charges, after spending years in prison. In Kashmir many journalists such as Fahad Shah, Sajad Gul, Irfan Mehraj, Aasif Sultan and Majid Hyderi have been arrested while most other journalists live in fear. Since 2010, as many as 15 journalists and two media managers have been charged under UAPA, seven are still behind bars. Sedition charges have been filed against leading journalists like Vinod Dua, Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai and others. Defamation charges have been filed against journalists like Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Ravi Nair and many others. Raids on media, seizure of electronic devices and harassment of media employees is becoming another menace.
“Social media handles and YouTube channels of independent journalists are often forced to shut or censored for speaking or showing truth. Many of the independent YouTubers were leading anchors and editors who were forced out of TV news channels. Big corporate companies and other vested interests, have cemented their control over media, despite our warnings that cross- media ownership is dangerous for this country and its democracy. Journalists have been retrenched by managements under pressure from their corporate funders. Traditional family owned newspapers and media houses too are forced to bow before the pressure from the market or the governments.
“We deeply regret the weaponisation of sections of the media to spread hate. A rabid communal agenda has divided and polarized the people, threatening the unity and integrity of the Indian state. We hold the corporate media, particularly TV channels and their anchors and editors, culpable for these divisions and fissures in society as much as politicians.
“On the other hand, we note with dismay the increasing attempts to ‘regulate’ the media, particularly the relatively independent digital media and social media through amendments and changes to the laws. The IT Rules, 2021, the Registration of Press and Periodicals Bill, 2022 and the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 are the most recent such moves that threaten democracy and free speech.
“The Union Government has also dealt journalism a big blow by submerging the two above mentioned Acts for journalists into the Labour Codes, reducing our rights. These Acts were the last resort for a journalist to fight the pressures from the management, the corporate advertisers or autocratic governments.
“It has been 13 years since the Centre accepted the recommendations of the Majithia Wage Board, which was the last Wage Board for journalists and press workers. The Centre has not shown any willingness to constitute another Wage Board and this is impacting the lives of many journalists and workers.
“As trade unions, we believe that collective struggles should be launched along with workers, peasants, youth and students to protect the democracy of our country. We urge you to help us in raising the voices of independent press in Parliament and other forums.
“We have certain concrete suggestions to cross over this crisis of democracy. Here is our fourteen point charter of demands, which we request you to consider.
1. A law to protect journalists from arbitrary arrests and malicious prosecution is the need of the hour. Journalists cannot be treated as terrorists.
- 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. The draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 which is meant to replace the Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act), will affect not just streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video but also individuals putting news and current affairs online on platforms like YouTube and WhatsApp. These bills must be discussed in the public domain, through public hearings and consultations with all stakeholders including journalists’ organizations before being passed.
- Early setting up of a common Media Council for print, electronic and digital media, with representatives from the media, media unions and independent public persons.
- 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 imperialist globalisation 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.
- Repeal the four Labour Codes. Restore previous pro-labour legislations. Restore the two Working Journalists Acts with a simple amendment to include broadcast and digital media.
- Implement the last Wage Board recommendations as per the historic Supreme Court ruling of February 7th, 2014. Set up fast track courts with time bound implementation in view of pendency of cases. Constitute a new Wage Board at the earliest. Interim relief is overdue.
- Proper Risk Insurance cover for media workers and their equipment as well as a decent Pension Scheme. Currently, the contributory pension that journalists get is a pittance, seldom more than a couple of thousand rupees.
- Ensure 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. The once virtually self-reliant UNI Urdu news service is barely surviving, amidst celebrations of 200 years of the Urdu press. Attempts to discriminate against another premier national news agency, the PTI, must stop.
- India’s record of imposing Internet bans is the worst in the world, with 741 shutdowns from 2012 to July 2023. 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 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.
- Given the increasing tendency of media companies to outsource work, provisions need to be made for freelance journalists, stringers and consultants, to ensure that payments by media companies are both timely and adequate. The number of such media workers is growing by the day but there are no proper legal provisions for their welfare and social security.
- And lastly, but most importantly, release all the journalists, academics and activists arrested arbitrarily.
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. Surely immediate steps are needed to save it and ensure that the print, broadcast and digital media are allowed to co-exist and flower and bloom in a responsible manner.”
The statement has been signed by S.K.Pande, President-DUJ, Sujata Madhok, General Secretary –DUJ A.M. Jigeesh, President- NAJ,N.Kondaiah, Secretary General-NAJ, G.Anjaneyulu, General Secretary-APWJF and R.Kiran Babu, General Secretary – KUWJ