10TH PLENARY SESSION OF INDIAN JOURNALSITS UNION (IJU) HELD IN CHENNAI, TAMILNADU
The 10th Plenary session of Indian Journalists Union (IJU), the premier and largest organization of media persons in the country, held successfully from October 29 to 31, 2022 at Chennai, Tamilnadu. The meeting was attended by more than 350 elected members of the National Council, Delegates and Presidents/General Secretaries of the state unions representing about 28 thousand primary members given a call to observe SAVE JOURNALISM DAY in the month of January 2023. Delegates represented multicolored, multifaceted diversity of the length and breadth of the country from the fields of NEWS ( North, East, West & South) and other distant places of India including far-flung regions of Ladakh, who travelled long to reach Chennai, the beautiful southern metropolitan city of Tamilnadu to deliberate and contribute to the future of Journalism in Comrade Santosh Kumar Nagar. The IJU has expressed serious concern over persistent attack on media and the shrinking space for independent media in the country. In a resolution passed at the plenary, the union appealed to the democracy loving people in the country to raise their voice against the unabated attack on media and media persons by both state actors and unlawful vested interests enjoying the state patronage. The resolution further added that safeguarding the media is critical to sustain the democracy and it is sacred duty of every citizen to protect and stand by independent media.
BKN Auditorium, the venue of the plenary session, named after Com. Santosh Kumar, the founder President of IJU, a scholarly figure , veteran national leader of working journalists and newspaper employees of India, and the meeting hall named after eminent Journalist, unionist and founder editor of Scribes News Com. K. Amarnath, presented an elegant look. The plenary is hosted by Tamilnadu Union of Journalists along with Pondicherry Journalists Union, discussed all important aspects concerning the media including the present scenario, role of journalism, curbs on freedom of speech, intolerance to criticism, professional issues and welfare of working journalists. The conference was inaugurated by Com. L.S. Herdenia, one among the founder leaders of the erstwhile IFWJ and also of the IJU, a renowned journalist himself, wedded to the principles of journalism. Com. Herdenia at the outset said freedom is in peril and this does not apply to media alone but to the entire country. According to him, the worst calamity affecting media relates to the repeal of the Working Journalists Act, along with the Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages) Act. These laws were repealed without incorporating corresponding special provisions governing the working condition, wages and special privileges of working journalists in the Labour Codes Bill, greatly impacting them and their independence, essential for sustaining a vibrant democratic polity in the country. After passage of the Labour Codes, no working journalist or editor can approach a court to challenge his or her arbitrary termination under the Industrial Disputes Act. As the four Labour Codes Greatly endanger the freedom of expression and independent journalism, the working journalists and their organizations should untidily defend their rights and freedom with all their might.
In his Presidential address IJU President K. Sreenivas Reddy said that For all of us, working Journalists in the country this is a difficult phase. We are passing through testing times. We are facing various challenges professionally and our job security is in peril. Journalists in India are also facing security issues for their professional work. As far as the wage revisions and welfare measures are concerned the less we speak the better. The last wage board for working journalists and other newspaper employees for wage revision was established in 2007 headed by Justice Majithia, and the recommendations of that wage board were yet to be implemented by many establishments and the State governments have not been acting responsibly.” Com. Reddy also said for doing their professional duty and defending media freedom, while expressing their right to freedom of expression, a number of Journalists were put behind bars in various States. In this sacred duty some others paid the price with their lives. In this atmosphere of growing intolerance Journalists are increasingly facing threats of intimidation and physical harm. Attacks against Journalists have become a common thing. This situation posses very serious danger to democratic society.
He further made out that though Journalists have been hailed as Covid-19 warriors by none other than the Prime Minister and several Chief Ministers and Governors, in reality the fraternity received scant support in terms of COVID d relief. It is high time that the Union government appointed a Media Commission to go into the whole scenario in the country. The government in its relentless efforts to help the corporate and the capitalists at the cost of labour force and working class has repealed all labour laws to the detriment of the workers and codification of the same into four codes is the last straw that breaks the back of the camel. In this process of redefining law in relation to working class, the Journalist community has lost its special status as both the acts of working journalists, governing the work force of the fourth estate in the country, have become null and void. Summing up his address the President said that For the living and thriving democracies, media has a great role to play. It has to be the watch dog, the catalyst for providing context to the socio-economic and political developments. It has to be a bridge between government and people. But now the governments which are increasingly becoming authoritarian, are expecting the media to be a lap dog, not a watch dog, which is a very bad sign for democracy, the President said.
The Secretary General Com. Balwinder Singh Jammu in his report to the Plenary session said that Credibility of major newspapers came under fire with their anti journalist policies during the pandemic. On the other side, medium and small newspapers could not get sufficient government/private advertisement support due to policy changes. These media houses are still facing problems. I along with Comrade Amarnath, Prem Bhargav and S.N. Sinha participated in protest meetings and demonstrations jointly organized by Press Club of India and the other journalists organizations in the National Capital on these issues of serious concern. He further added that In the NEC meeting held at Mathura, members of the Executive Committee unanimously supported and passed the unity move of the working journalists and a three-member committee was constituted with K. Sreenivas Reddy, S.N. Sinha and myself to carry the efforts further. On the request of state unions leaders like Babulal M. Chaudhury and Prajapathi of Gujarat and G. Prabhakaran and U. Vikaraman of Kerala, who had walked out of the IJU platform earlier and had formed rivals organization, met us and it was decided that they merge their union with us unconditionally. Odisha Union of Working Journalists (OUWJ), under the leadership of Niranjan Biswal which was earlier associated with us, again joined the mainstream. He said that it is a positive and encouraging sign that the Unions that have left us sometime back, have again started coming back to join us. We have two more new State unions formed in Maharashtra and Haryana which are now in the fold of IJU, good news was that Journalists from Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have also met with the leaders of IJU and ad-hoc committees have been formed there, they have started the process of registration of the state unions.”
The Secretary General said that We are deeply concerned about the government maneuvers to weaken the media as an institution and impinge on the right to freedom of expression and curtail access to information critical to the countrys democracy. Reconstitution of Central Media Accreditation Committee by the Ministry of I & B with full of government nominees and constitution of 14th Press Council of India by the outgoing Chairman throwing the PCI Act and Rules to wind are deeply disturbing. The outgoing Chairman chose to brazenly to do away with the well established procedure and precedents, and interpreted the Rules and Guidelines perversely, with the intent to keep out the National Organisations of Journalists from the Press Council. We have filed a case in Delhi High Court along with other National Media Organizations, against these illegal and arbitrary decision, and demanded reconstitution of the Press Council with National Journalists Unions\Associations representation as was the case in the past. Speaking in the plenary, Com. G Prabhakaran of KJU along with Babulal M. Chaudhury of GJU and Niranjan Biswal of OUWJ thanked the IJU President Reddy, Secretary General Jammu and former President Sinha for accepting their request for unconditional merger of their state units. They said We are very happy to be here amongst you after a gap of 10 years, due to the unfortunate split in the IJU. They hoped that some more states who were with IJU earlier will also return to join the main force.
The Plenary passed 14 resolutions on the issues of working journalists, which include Demand for a National Law for protection of Journalists & Media Establishments, Attacks on Media, New Labour Codes and repealing of Working Journalists Acts, Appointment of New Media Commission, Demand to Convert Press Council to Media Council and include Electronic, Web media in it, Resolution on Wrongful Reconstitution of Press Council of India and Central Media Accreditation Committee, Pension for all Journalists and supporting The Chatter of Demands submitted by Central Trade Unions etc. In the resolution demanding national law for protection of journalists and media establishments it said This Plenary regrets that the Union Government has not taken any action so far on IJUs repeated appeals for the enactment of a national law to ensure safety and protection of working journalists and media establishments with payment of adequate compensation to their families in case any tragedy befall on them. There are innumerable occasions, the Journalists face threats to their life and limb and intimidation including kidnapping, online harassment, force detention and torture from not only the various mafia and terrorists but also from security forces, throughout the country for practicing their fundamental rights and duties. Even the Maharashtra Governments which accepted the demand and came out with a special law The Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and damage or Loss to Property) Act 2017 which was notified in 2019 for the protection of journalists and media establishments is not covering it adequately. We thank them for bringing the first act to protect journalists in our country and request the present government to improve it.The plenary, therefore, called upon the Central Government and all State governments not to wait for the occurrence of the next big tragedy but to take urgent steps to enact a law to ensure the safety and protection of working journalists and media establishment with the payment of adequate compensation to the families of working journalists in case of any abuse on their duty an fundamental rights.