The two-day historic 10th Plenary session of Indian Journalists Union (IJU), the premier organization of media persons in the country, was very successfully held at Chennai from October 29 to 31, 2022.
It was attended by 150 elected members of the National Council representing 24,693 primary members of the State Unions from 24 States and the Presidents and general secretaries of those States besides leaders of newly joined union from Odisha, Kerala, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan. It was also attended by special invites and a few fraternal delegates from some States. The venue of the plenary session BKN Auditorium was named after the scholarly veteran national leader of working journalists and newspaper employees in the country and the founder President of IJU Com. Santosh Kumar. The meeting hall was named after eminent Journalist and unionist Com. K. Amarnath. The veteran Journalist and one of the founder leaders of the erstwhile IFWJ and the President IJU Com. L.S. Hardenia has inaugurated the 10th plenary session. The delegates from far-flung places like Ladakh, Kashmir, west, east and south and other distant places in north India have travelled very long distances to Chennai, the beautiful southern metropolitan city to participate in the plenary session.
The plenary was organized by Tamil Nadu Union of Journalists headed by its President Com. D.S.R. Subash with help from the Pondicherry Journalists Union President Mathi Maharaj. The plenary session discussed all important aspects concerning the media scenario, professional issues and welfare of journalists. In his presidential address IJU President K.Sreenivas Reddy said that “For all of us, for 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 in 2007 and the recommendations of that wage board headed by Justice Majithia were yet to be implemented by many establishments and the State governments have not been acting responsibily.” For doing their professional duty and defending media freedom and while expressing their right to freedom of expression a number of Journalists were put behind bars on various States. In this sacred duty some others paid 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, the President said.
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 relief. On the wage front the wages implementation of revised wages recommended by wage board and duly notified by the government remains a shameful exercise with both managements and the governments arrogantly neglecting their responsibility. In electronic media payment of wages position at lower and mid level is very pathetic. It is high time that the Union government appointed a Media Commission to go into the whole scenario of media in the country. The government in its relentless efforts to help corporate and capitalists at the cost of labour force and working class, has repealed all labour laws and codified them into four codes. In the process the Journalists community has lost its special status with both the acts of working journalists governing work force of the fourth estate in the country becoming void.
Summing up his address the President said that “In democracies media has a great role to play. It has to be the watch dog. It has to be the catalyst by providing context to 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 “IJU is most prestigious and representative organization of the working Journalists in the country.” The report recalled the IJU last plenary session at Amritsar on November 27-28, 2018. In the 9th Plenary, Com. Amar Devulapalli was elected President and Sabina Inderjit as Secretary General. Unfortunately, Sabina Indrajit could not protect the interests of the union and acted against the union. Therefore, she attracted disciplinary action by the National Executive Committee of the IJU. Com. Amar Devulapalli submitted his resignation from the post of President of IJU on his appointment as National Media Advisor to the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.
According to the constitution of the IJU and established norms, the decision to elect the new President should have been taken in the National Executive Committee meeting but then Secretary General Sabina appointed Geethartha Pathak on her own as the new President of IJU. Subsequently to this move of Sabina going against the interests of the Union 18 members of the National Executive Committee wrote a letter to the Secretary General to call an emergency meeting of NEC but she did not pay heed to the call. Following the inaction of Sabina an emergency meeting of NEC was held in Press Club of India, New Delhi on November 5, 2019 in which 19 National Executive Committee members including Sabina Inderjit and Special Invitees and Presidents and general secretaries of the affiliated state unions attended the meeting. Sabina Inderjit also came deliberately without minutes book and she signed in the new minutes book.
In the meeting the services of Amar Devulapalli were applauded and his resignation was accepted by the NEC. The NEC unanimously elected K. Sreenivas Reddy as President of the IJU in place of D. Amar. The NEC suspended Sabina Inderjit from the Union for flouting the constitution, unilateral actions, and anti-union activities. As the Secretary General position fell vacant the NEC elected me as Secretary General.
The Secretary General’s report further 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 the changes in policy. These media houses are still facing problems. I along with Comrade Amarnath, Prem Bhargav and S.N. Sinha participated in protests meetings and demonstrations jointly organized by Press Club of India and other journalists organization held in national capital on these issues of concern.
In the NEC meeting held at Mathura, members of the Executive Committee unanimously supported and passed the unity move of the IJU and a three-member committee was formed with K. Sreenivas Reddy, S.N. Sinha and myself to further the efforts. On the request of leaders of state unions like Prajapati of Gujarat and Kerala of G. Prabhakaran, who had walked out of the Union platform earlier and formed rivals organization, the three member committee held a meeting Press Club of India, New Delhi. In this meeting myself and Sreenivas Reddy, S.N. Sinha and Prem Bhargav, Treasurer, IJU took initiative in talks with the leaders of Gujarat Prajapathi and Babulal M. Chaudhury, G. Prabhakaran and U. Vikaraman of Kerala and it was decided that they merge their union unconditionally in our Union. We welcome them whole heartedly. Odisha Union of Working Journalists (OUWJ), which was earlier associated with us again joined the mainstream under the leadership of Niranjan Biswal.
The report of the Secretary General said that “When those decisions came, Secretary of Indian Journalists Union from Kerala, Com. Rajan posted a letter on IJU platform that he was not in agreement with this unity move and they disassociated their Union with IJU. It is sad that Com. Rajan could not stick to the unanimous decision of the NEC to which he was also a party. Further, more good news is expected and hopefully who went away from mainstream in north-east will be returning soon.” In future, we need to come up as much stronger Union to counter the attacks on the Journalists that we have been watching continuously for longer time. I would like to say that it is a positive and encouraging sign that the Unions that have left us sometime back have again come back. We have two more new State union formed in Maharashtra and Haryana which are now in the fold of IJU. Another good news was that Journalists from Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have also met with the leaders of IJU and adhoc committees have been formed there and they have started the process of registration of unions. Their delegations are attending this plenary session.
These developments are strong indications to the fact that Indian Journalists Union has successfully established itself as the premier organization of Journalists in the country. Journalists Unions in the remaining states are also indicating willingness to come to the fold of IJU. It shows that IJU is being recognized as one and the only Journalists Union in the country which is tirelessly and actively working on the issues of Journalists and continuously raising their voice. Responding to the call of IJU and as a prelude to the 10th Plenary, Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ), Maharashtra State Union of Working Journalists, Telengana State Union of Working Journalists (TUWJ), Punjab and Chandigarh Journalists Union (PCJU), Chandigarh and Haryana Journalists Union and Kerala Journalists Union (KJU) organized seminars. We have not received any information from other States on this activity.
The Secretary General’s report 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 country’s democracy. The 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 national organistions 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 on behalf of the three State units – Kerala Journalists Union (KJU), Orissa Union of Working Journalists (OUWJ) and Gujarat Journalists Union (GJU) who had merged with IJU, G. Prabhakaran (KJU) thanked the IJU, its President Com. K. Sreenivas Reddy, Secretary General Com. Balwinder Singh Jammu and Com. S. N. Sinha for accepting the request for unconditional merger of these state units.
“I am very happy to be here amongst you after a gap of 10 years due to the unfortunate split in the IJU. Now five State units have merged with the IJU and delegates from three States – Odisha, Kerala and Gujarat are attending this plenary session. Two more States will join shortly. Some more States who were with the IJU earlier will also return”, he said.
“The media in the country is facing the biggest ever challenges. The freedom of press is under great attack. Freedom of press has become a thing of past. More and more Journalists are under attack. Many were killed during the last couple of years. The attack on media is an attack on our democracy itself because democracy and freedom of press are two sides of the same coin. Without democracy a free media cannot survive and without media a democracy also cannot survive,” he said. “The mainstream media has become an entrainment business now. We are not sure whether it is news media or entertainment media. The media lost its credibility due to the paid news, advertorial marketing, space selling, sponsored news etc. It is a worse situation through which we are passing through. Thus it is time for all media persons, all those working in the media institutions, and all supporters of democracy and freedom of expression should join hands and fight against the attack on the freedom of press and media persons. We should get the support from the trade unions, democratic parties, all sections of the society who wanted freedom of press and democracy to unite and support the media freedom and democracy”, he said.
IMPORTANT RESOLUTIONS PASSED BY THE IJU PLENARY SESSION
The plenary session has passed some very important resolutions. They are on National Law for Protection of Journalists & Media Establishments (2) Resolution on attacks on Media (3) On Labour and Industrial Codes – Working Journalists Act (4) Resolution on Wrongful Reconstitution of Press Council of India and Central Media Accreditation Committee (5) Unity among working Journalists in the country and on delegation of powers to National Executive Committee. The plenary has amended the IJU constitution and brought the two term rule consecutively for the office bearers. It has increased the number of NEC and NC members as the membership increased. The resolution on Delegation of powers to National Executive Committee “to exercise any or all its powers and the decision of the National Executive Committee shall be deemed to be the decision of the National Council. This delegation of powers shall be only for the term of the National Council. A new National Council when elected shall have the right to exercise these powers or delegate them to the National Executive Committee. This authorization is given by the Plenary of National Council under Rule 54(e) of the Indian Journalists Union Constitution and Rules.”
RESOLUTION ON NATIONAL LAW FOR PROTECTION OF JOURNALISTS & MEDIA ESTABLISHMENTS:
The resolution said “This Plenary\Delegate session of the Indian Journalists Union (IJU), held at Chennai, Tamil Nadu on 29th to 31st October, 2022 regrets that the Union Government has not taken any action so far on IJU’s 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. There have been many reports of media persons being abused or beaten up. 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.
RESOLUTION ON ATTACKS ON MEDIA:
The 10th plenary session of IJU “expresses serious concern over persistent attacks on media and shrinking space for independent media in the country. The session calls on all democracy loving people in the country to raise their voice against the unabated assault on media and media persons by both State actors and unlawful and vested elements enjoying the state patronage. Safeguarding media is critical to sustaining the democracy and it is the sacred duty of every citizen to protect and stand by independent media.” It is a matter of shame for the country that the downward sliding of India on the scale of press freedom has not stopped and it has been given a rank of 150 among 180 countries surveyed in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders, a plunge from the rank 142 in 2021 index. The largest democracy in the world has been listed under countries considered “bad” for journalism by RSF and is among the most dangerous place in the world for Journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists at least four Journalists were murdered for their Journalism. Attacks against Journalists are rising and emboldened by the hostile attitude of the nationalistic government towards critical media the right wing majoritarian forces are on rampage.
The resolution further said that “For those newspapers, news channels and digital media outlets which just want to be professional and ethical in their operations it is becoming increasingly difficult to move ahead. The intolerance of the government to critical reporting and comment has been on the increase and as a consequence independent media houses face the harassment and intimidation by state agencies. In cases where even these tricks fail to yield result other tactics are explored like hostile takeovers as being seen in the case of NDTV.” In Kashmir which was stripped of its autonomy unilaterally in 2019 Journalists continue to face severe repression by the State. There the draconian Public Safety Act is being used to incarcerate Journalists who do not toe the line of the establishment imposed on the Kashmiris by New Delhi. When they are given bail by the courts, which is rare, the police are arresting them again on some other charges, as has been seen in the case of Aasif Sultan.
RESOLUTION ON LABOUR AND INDUSTRIAL CODES – WORKING JOURNALISTS ACT:
The plenary session has demanded the reinstallation of the Working Journalists Act with more favourable provisions encompassing wages, wage revisions with wage boards, job security, pension benefits and the whole gamut of working conditions for the working journalists in the country. The resolution termed the amalgamation of the Working Journalists Act, 1955, into four codes namely 1. Code of Wages 2019; 2. Code on Social Security 2020; 3. Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code 2020 and 4. Industrial Relations Code 2020, where working Journalists are bundled along with sales representatives etc., as refusal to recognize fourth estate. As clarified by the Supreme Court of India freedom of press in India is inherently laid down in the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression. A free press, one of the most essential ingredients for safeguarding the democracy is in turn the sacred duty of working journalists and stripping of the rightfully accorded special recognition of a fraternity vested with such weighty responsibilities spells danger to the very fabric of democracy.
The new codes accord more flexibility to employers enabling them to resort to hire and fire policies without government permission. The codes also permit employers to include arbitrary service conditions for all including Journalists. The new codes take away all the time tested freedom of Journalists and make them like any other employee working at the mercy of the media barons thus leading to the dilution of media freedom in the country. The resolution has urged the Central government to rectify the anomaly immediately by reinstalling the Working Journalists Act of 1955. The working report from the States were presented by the Presidents\Secretaries of State Union.