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Journalist Bodies Write Open Letter Urging MPs and Political Parties to Include Press Freedom in Election Platforms

NAJ, DUJ highlight immediate need for remedial measures to ensure the safety and security of journalists in India.

New Delhi: The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) have issued an open letter calling on political leaders and Parliamentarians to include a charter of press freedom in their election platforms. 

The letter highlights the immediate need for remedial measures to ensure the safety and security of journalists in India, who have faced numerous attacks in the past decade. The letter also addresses the increasing corporatisation of the media and the detrimental effects it is having on the freedom of the press. “Extensive advertising by governments has bought over large sections of the media. Democracy stands gravely endangered,” the letter reads.

The NAJ and DUJ have also called for the creation of a common national Media Council and a Media Commission of experts to address issues within the media, including media monopolies and cross-media holdings. “The Press Council of India came into existence with the recommendations of the First Press Commission. After the Second Press Commission, there has been nothing for around 60 years, although the entire media structure has changed. Surely the media cannot be guided by jungle law purely at the hands of market forces, national and international, or made into drumbeaters of the powerful,” it states.

The letter also expresses concern over the repeal of protective laws for journalists, such as the Working Journalists Act, 1955, and the Payment of Wages Act, 1958, and their replacement with Labor Codes. It emphasises that the Codes severely curtail the rights and entitlements of both media employees and the entire working class. “They enable the ‘ease of doing business while undermining the average citizen’s ‘ease of working and living.”

The open letter, in its 11-point charter demands, several measures to improve the conditions of journalists in India, including the setting up of a common Media Council and a Media Commission, responsible checks on cross-media ownership, and the implementation of the last Wage Board recommendations. Additionally, the letter calls for proper risk insurance coverage and pension schemes for journalists, and the withdrawal of recent amendments to Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021 that enable censorship of small, independent digital media.

The NAJ and DUJ also address the increasing misuse of laws such as the Sedition, Defamation, and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), to arrest and prosecute journalists and call for a law to protect journalists from arbitrary arrests and malicious prosecution. The letter also demands fast-track courts for the implementation of the Majithia Award and an end to the abuse of internet shutdowns.

The open letter concludes by expressing hope that the demands will be taken seriously and responded to with the urgency they deserve. The letter emphasises that independent journalism is currently facing significant challenges and requires immediate attention and support.

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