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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 37, New Delhi, August 29, 2020

Endangered journalists on the horizon | Mrinal Biswas

Friday 28 August 2020

by Mrinal Biswas*

Country’s journalists are the most endangered species now. They are being fired right and left, facing pay cuts or being laid off at random. Not rare is the case of held up due payments to the scribes for an indefinite period. News industry owners have become most ruthless in the midst of pandemic. the mayhem of the media employees began before the onset of global phenomenon though (Read Massacre of Newspersons published by the Indian Journalists’ Association in March 2017).

The strange stand of the Press barons naming outcast a major part of their staff strength is based on their complaints against governments’ disinclination to meet their costs of publications etc. Because the governments are said to be holding up payments against advertisements making the media owners so much of fund crunch as to force them to trim the staff strength. This is a blatant distortion of facts because governments always take time to pay up and the media owners make most of the revenue gains by space sellings to the corporates and all kinds of buyers of newspaper space.

Stranger still is that some among the journalists also plead for early liquidation of governments’ dues to the print and electronic media with the infantile argument that only then will the paymasters come to the rescue of the journalists. Why they do not understand that there is an inherent contradiction between the employers (paymasters) and their journalist employees. Their basic interests are mutually exclusive.

Those journalists pleading for governments’ payments to news industry owners have not only bring shame to the fraternity but expose the whole Press world to the manipulations of the power that be. The government-induced said fund crunch opened up the reversal of the basic tenets of the labour laws and encourage the employers to deny their employees their rights to work.

After sweeping deregulation moves in the economic sector the central government is set to amalgamet all labour laws into a single form of Labour Code making the existing protecting armours of labourers and employments most vulnerable.

In the dawn of independence Chalapati Rao, Editor of National Heralald, led some leading journalists to persuade Prime Minister J L Nehru for giving journalists a distinct status for employee newspersons. This gave rise to The WorkingJournalists (Conditions of Service) And Miscellaneius Provisions Act 1955. This law defined who should be designated as newsmen with security provision having their rights, duties and scales of pay. There was a specific provision for the right of appeal for any terminated newsman, in the courts of law in the final analysis. So hiring newsmen was the employers’ prerogative but firing them at their sweet will was greatly limited. The Nehru Government’s bestowing honour and dignity to the journalists is still remembered as a great event in the journey towards Press freedom.

That course has now not only been halted it has been entirely reversed by the fat-to-fatter newsindustry owners who had always been hostile to the journalists’ act. Long before knowing the heavy dilution of ensuing laws the Press barons have started a cat and mouse game with their journalist employees keeping in their stable only amenable persons in the editorial departments. Others are easily dispensable and in fact subjected to massive marching orders.

Present generation of journalists cannot escape the blot on the shrunken space of their noble role either. Agreed they had to bite the employers dictation at the entry point of joining the profession on some forms of contractual terms. It was the buyers market, no doubt. What is regrettable is their continued compromising stance and have never shown any intention to assert for coverage under the journalists’ act and any movement thereof.

Newsindustry owners have a free hand as a consequence and they apply the button to push out their editorial staff without giving any reason whatsever.

* Author:
Mrinal Biswas, Former President, Indian Journalists’ Association, Calcutta

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