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Leading Journalist Unions Unite, Present 14-Point Charter to Revive Journalism

Unions also call for law to protect journalists from arbitrary arrests and malicious prosecution, emphasising that journalists should not be treated as terrorists.
‘Attack on Press Freedom’: Editors Guild Condemn IT Dept ‘Surveys’ at Media Houses

Image Courtesy: Free Press Journal

New Delhi: In a joint effort to address the challenges faced by the media fraternity in India, prominent journalist unions, including the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ), the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), and the Andhra Pradesh Working Journalists Federation (APWJF), representing around 10,000 journalists, along with associated members from across the nation, have issued a compelling 14-point charter to members of Parliament and various political parties. The charter calls for immediate measures to safeguard and rejuvenate journalism, given the escalating threats to press freedom and the rights and dignity of journalists.

The unions have specifically urged the establishment of a Media Commission of India, drawing inspiration from the First and Second Press Commissions. The charter strongly condemns the prevailing Labour Codes and ongoing attempts to stifle media voices. It highlights the grim reality that numerous journalists are incarcerated for exposing governmental actions and the controlling forces. The document also points to journalists facing criminal charges, including UAPA charges, with several enduring years in prison.

In Kashmir, journalists like Fahad Shah, Sajad Gul, Irfan Mehraj, Aasif Sultan, and Majid Hyderi have faced arrests, instilling fear among their colleagues. Notably, since 2010, 15 journalists and two media managers have been charged under UAPA, with seven still behind bars. Sedition charges have been levied against prominent journalists like Vinod Dua, Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai, and others, while defamation charges target figures like Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Ravi Nair. The charter further raises concerns about raids on media, confiscation of electronic devices, and harassment of media employees.

The unions stress the absence of Wage Boards for the past 13 years and the government's reluctance to constitute a new one or provide interim relief. Timed with the ongoing parliamentary session, the unions hope to draw attention to the detailed charter, attached herewith, and seek support in addressing the critical challenges faced by the journalistic community. The charter is a comprehensive effort to secure the future of independent journalism, emphasising the need for collective action to protect democracy and press freedom in the country.

The charter, delivered in the form of a demand letter, emphasises the crucial role of media in a democratic society, citing the declining ranking of India in the Freedom of Press Index. The unions express concern over the challenging environment faced by journalists in recent years, marked by an increasing number of journalists facing legal actions and attacks.

Highlighting the need for legislative reforms, the unions call for a law to protect journalists from arbitrary arrests and malicious prosecution, emphasising that journalists should not be treated as terrorists. The demand also includes the withdrawal of recent amendments to the IT Rules, 2021, aimed at censoring independent digital media.

The charter advocates for the establishment of a common Media Council for print, electronic, and digital media, along with a comprehensive Media Commission to study the entire media landscape. Other demands include checks on cross-media ownership, support for national language news agencies, and the repeal of the four Labour Codes.

The unions urge the implementation of the last Wage Board recommendations and the restoration of previous pro-labour legislations, emphasising the pressing need for a new Wage Board. They also call for proper risk insurance coverage for media workers, a decent pension scheme, and financial support for national news agencies facing challenges.

The charter addresses issues related to internet shutdowns, misuse of laws like Sedition and Defamation against journalists, and the need for legal provisions for freelance journalists, stringers, and consultants. The unions also emphasise the release of all journalists, academics, and activists arrested arbitrarily.

In their closing remarks, the unions express hope that their demands will be considered with earnestness and immediacy. They assert that immediate steps are essential to save independent journalism, allowing print, broadcast, and digital media to coexist and flourish responsibly.

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