Stop Labour Codes that subsumed the Working Journalists Act: DUJ
3 May: World Press Freedom Day
By S.K.Pande, Sujata Madhok and Jigeesh. A.M*
New Delhi: As proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993, World Press Freedom Day on May 3 is supposed to act as a “reminder to governments” of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. For journalists, the Day is to reflect on issues of “press freedom and professional ethics”. But the situation, after 30 years, is not at all rosy.
On the 30th World Press Freedom Day, we urge the Centre and the States to stop implementing the Labour Codes, which have subsumed the Working Journalists Act. This Act has played a pivotal role in protecting the freedom of the press. We also urge the Centre to immediately announce a new tripartite Wage Board for the entire industry. Lastly, we demand a special law to protect media persons and the entire media.
The World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) notes that in 2023 India’s ranking has dropped sharply to 161 out of 180 countries. In 2022 its rank was 150. RSF had recently warned about a two-fold increase in polarization. It said media polarisation is fuelling divisions within countries, as well as between countries at the international level. The collapse of many economies after the pandemic has further fuelled polarisation in many countries. The big corporate media has played an active role in creating divisions among people.
India is no different. The corporate media or the godi media have pledged total support to the current government and the Hindutva agenda of the RSS. Many TV channels are now owned by corporates aligned with the ruling party. News about corporate corruption, protests by farmers and workers, people’s issues and issues raised by the opposition is often ignored or covered up. Many independent-thinking journalists who do not kowtow to those in power have either lost jobs or got sidelined in the process.
Attacks against independent media and independent journalists have increased sharply in recent years. These range from intimidation to physical and ‘legal’ attacks that misuse the law. Trolling, particularly of women journalists, is merciless. Many journalists are being harassed by the arbitrary filing of cases and even arrests for doing their job.
On this World Press Freedom Day, we ask the Centre to stop attacks on the media. We urge Parliament and the Judiciary to strike down sedition and defamation laws that are repeatedly used against journalists and other citizens. We ask that draconian laws like The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) be revised urgently. Parliament must review the new rules for digital media that will strike the death knell for independent media.
On this day, we salute all journalists and other employees in the media sector and call upon them to collectively defend the freedom of the press and dignity of labour for journalists.
*The writers are respectively the President, General Secretary, and Secretary of the Delhi Union of Journalists. The views expressed are personal and excerpted from a release sent by them.