For the first time in any election since Independence, a Left party, that is the CPI(M), has come out with a clear media policy outline in its election manifesto for the 17th Lok Sabha election 2019, which was released in the Capital on Thursday. Of course, this is besides the party’s usual thrust on people’s issues, with the warning that these elections are the most crucial in the history of independent India.
The present article confines itself to the chapter on ‘Culture and the Media’, which is a little more than a page of the 48-page manifesto. The manifesto breaks new ground with a clear suggestion that the Working Journalists Act be amended to include journalists and workers from the wider media to ensure decent wages and job security. Furthermore, it has supported the demand of some journalists’ and press unions to constitute a new wage board for journalists in print, electronic and digital media to revise wages in media organisations.
It may be noted that this is the first time in the country since the wage board was constituted, that a government – the present one -- has shirked its responsibility and has clearly stated that it was not inclined to constitute such a wage board, which has been overdue for quite some time.
Culture and Media
The manifesto of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) combines culture and media and a clear cultural policy is indicated very briefly.
On culture it has clearly stated:
- All languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution to be equally encouraged and developed.
- Promoting secular, progressive and democratic culture; attacks on cultural personalities and productions by the communal forces to be firmly dealt with.
- Curbing glorification of violence and commodification of women and sex.
The party’s manifesto has called for strengthening the Prasar Bharati Corporation to make it a genuine public broadcasting service for TV and radio; states to have a say in the programmes aired by the public broadcasting service. (This is in the backdrop of controversies recently generated by the present government to reduce the corporation to a government tom-tommer).
- The manifesto calls for prohibiting cross-media ownership to prevent monopolies; reversing the entry of FDI in the print and electronic media.
- Setting up of a Media Council which can act as an independent regulatory authority for the media.
- Taking Internet governance out of US control to an appropriate international body; promoting a people-centric internet which builds in social justice and free from control of global corporations; promoting a global internet regime that protects the right to privacy and does not allow mass surveillance by either governments.
- Steps to control the spread of fake news and act on those groups and individuals promoting fake news.
- Steps to protect the freedom of media and stop attacks on journalists.
- Provide public support to independent media in various forms.
Amending the Working Journalists Act to include journalists and workers from all media organisations to ensure decent wages and job security. Constitute new wage board for journalists in print, electronic and digital media to revise wages in media organisations.
In another related matter, the party has called for a stop to the misuse of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and reform it suitably.
This is particularly relevant in view of attempts to clamp OSA on select newspaper groups in the Rafale deal expose.
Of course, the demand for a Media Commission raised by some bodies to look into changes in the wide spectrum media since the first press commission was appointed almost 50 years ago, is missing!
All in all, the manifesto does have some thrust on media matters and woes which have multiplied, with abysmal working conditions, bonds of contract and increasing attacks on media persons even while on duty, and with freedom of the press and freedom of association, and even shades of McCarthyism setting into silence dissent. It is a good beginning. However, it remains to be seen what other Left and democratic forces have to say on the subject.
The writer is a senior journalist. The views are personal.