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Journalists Organise for a New Deal SAMSN 120803

Journalists Organise for a New Deal SAMSN 120803

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Published by: Sukumar Muralidharan on Aug 17, 2012
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InternationalFederationof JournalistsSouth Asia Media SolidarityNetwork
3-5 August 2012
In Defence of Press Freedom in South Asia: Journalists Organise for a New Deal
Physical safety has justifiably gained attention as a necessity for press freedom in a regionwhich has proven among the most hazardous for journalism. And experiences over the year underlined SAMSN’s belief that security of employment and the assurance of decent wages andworking conditions – the all too often neglected dimensions of press freedom – are also of extreme urgency in the South Asian context. A number of journalists’ struggles for fair wages and decent working conditions are currentlyunderway in the region. Most recently, Bangladesh’s journalists forged a common platform, theSangbadik Shramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad (SSKOP, or United Committee of WorkingJournalists and Newspaper Employees) and organised in early March to demand the formalnotification of a new wage fixation body by March 10.This followed the failure of Bangladesh’s Ministry for Information to formally constitute the EighthWage Board for the newspaper industry through gazette by the end of February, despite anassurance given by Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad to the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) on January 22.Within days of Bangladesh’s journalists resolving to press their demand for a new wage deal, theNewspaper Owners’ Association of Bangladesh (NOAB) mobilised in opposition. "Forming anew wage board three and a half years after the seventh wage board award will put thenewspaper industry into a big crisis," NOAB said in a statement issued on March 19.The SSKOP responded within a day with the suggestion that the newspaper owners, rather thanresist the formation of a body mandated by law, should adopt a strategy of cooperation in a spiritof transparency and openness.Seven wage boards have been formed so far under a law adopted by Bangladesh’s Parliamentin 1974. The newspaper industry has resisted each of these and only complied with the statutorywage awards after losing legal battles that have reached the country’s highest courts. Therecord of compliance remains patchy and uneven, with several of the new media outlets thatbegan operations in recent boom years choosing to ignore the imperative of decent wages.The Eighth Wage Board was announced by the Government of Bangladesh afterepresentations from the country’s journalists about increasing costs of living and growing jobinsecurity. A chair has been nominated for the board and the various stakeholders from the sideof news industry employees, including both sides of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists(BFUJ), have named their representatives for the board.Yet the formal notification remains to be issued and the news industry owners continue to resist.The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), a SAMSN partner and IFJ affiliate, recentlywona significant victory when the Supreme Court of Pakistan directed the body charged withimplementation of statutory wage scales, to submit a report on the level of compliance in thenews industry within a month.The decision was handed down by a three-member bench of the court, headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, on March 22. At the urging of the PFUJ, the bench summoned thechairperson of the Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees (ITNE), Nasir HussainHaidri, to explain the situation.Supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung
InternationalFederationof JournalistsSouth Asia Media SolidarityNetwork
3-5 August 2012
Pakistan’s journalists have gained from the active interest of the country’s higher judiciary. OnMay 31 last year, the Sindh High Court in Karachi,dismissedidentical petitions filed by the AllPakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) – the apex body representing the industry – and the HeraldMedia group, which sought to quash the Seventh Wage Award for journalists and newspaper workers, announced in 2000.In welcoming this decision, SAMSN and the IFJ had called on the newspaper industry to acceptthe judicial ruling in good faith and implement the long-delayed wage award. The South Asiancollectivity also endorsed the PFUJ demand that the Eighth Wage Board be constituted withoutfurther delay.The matter though, went in appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which declined to issueany form of temporary restraint against the implementation of the Seventh Wage Award. At ahearing of the case in July 2011, Pakistan’s Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhary wondered out loudwhy the “
” (or newspaper owners) were not implementing the award. “Workers”, he said,are “part and parcel” of any industry, almost like its “backbone”.In October 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld the constitutional validity of theNewspaper Employees (Condition of Service) Act of 1973 under which the Seventh Wage Award was determined. In a 75-page judgment written by the Chief Justice, the Court held that“the Seventh Wage Board Award dated October 25, 2001, shall hold the field until it is modifiedor varied by a later decision of the board published in the manner provided in section 11(2)” of the Act. It is learnt that since then, a number of newspaper groups have begun implementing theSeventh Wage Award. The decade that has been lost to litigation of course, cannot be regained. And Pakistan’s journalists believe that an Eighth Wage Board has long since fallen due, to beset up with a time-bound mandate and the prior understanding that no further litigative delayswill be permitted.Nepal’s journalists gained significant recognition with the major amendments to the
Working Journalists’ Act (WJA)
that were enacted in 2007. The law as amended has important provisionson security of employment and periodic wage revisions for media workers. A basic minimumwage can be specified under the act, subject to periodic revision. The law also makes itmandatory that working journalists be issued letters of appointment by all media establishments,assuring them of security of tenure. Short-term contractual employment would be permittedwhen circumstances warrant, but would not under any circumstances, exceed 15 percent of thetotal number of working journalists in the news organisation. A committee formed under the WJA pointed out in a report submitted November 24, 2010, that37 percent of the country’s journalists are paid below the prescribed minimum wage, while 45percent are working without letters of appointment. Among the media houses surveyed, 48percent had failed to introduce basic measures such as retirement and welfare funds, medicalcover and insurance. Among the media groups reported by the FNJ to be in default on basic obligations under theWJA is the government-owned Gorkhapatra. Though statutory wage levels are formally notifiedwithin this group, which publishes the Nepali language
and the English-language
Rising Nepal 
, a large number of working journalists well beyond the 15 percent limitsanctioned under the WJA – are believed to be employed on contract.SAMSN partner and IFJ-affiliate, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ),fileda writ petitionin the Supreme Court of Nepal on January 26, seeking a direction to government to fullyimplement the provisions of the WJA in state-owned media organisations.Supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung
InternationalFederationof JournalistsSouth Asia Media SolidarityNetwork
3-5 August 2012
The FNJ petition highlighted that state-owned media enterprises in Nepal have beenconspicuous defaulters on their obligations under the law. The media organisations named inthe FNJ petition are the broadcasters Radio Nepal and Nepal Television, the newspaper publisher Gorkhapatra Corporation, the news agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti, and the Officeof the Press Registrar.No fewer than 45 percent of the journalists working in government owned media houses and 37percent of the entire community of journalists in Nepal still do not enjoy the minimum salary fixedby a duly empowered committee. Only 14 percent of Nepali journalists have been receivingregular salaries.In India, where the process of wage fixation through statutory bodies began as far back as 1958,the status of the most recent wage award remains ambiguous. On October 25 last year, India’sUnion Cabinet formallyapprovedthe recommendations of the G.R. Majithia Wage Boards for Journalists and Non-Journalists, which laid the ground for an all-round increase in wages for newspaper workers.India’s newspaper industry, both individually and collectively through the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) filed apetitionbefore the Supreme Court of India, claiming an infringement of their fundamental rights in the statutory wage fixation process. It emerged at the first hearing of thepetition in May 2011, that the administrative ministry of the Union Government dealing with thematter, had not provided copies of the report, submitted in December 2010, to the INS.In July 2011, the Supreme Court declined to order a stay on the implementation of the wageaward, preparing the ground for its formal acceptance by the Union Cabinet.The record of implementation though, remains indifferent so far, with only two newspaper groups – Assam Tribune in the northeastern Indian state of Assam and Madhyamam in the southernstate of Kerala – having done so. The Assam Tribune group has had a tradition of maintainingan open and cooperative relationship between management and unions. The state governmentin Assam has also been proactive in ensuring that newspaper managements remainaccountable in terms of their statutory obligations.In September 2010, the Assam state government constituted two “joint inspection teams” tosurvey the newspaper industry in the state and assess the level of compliance with the wageboard stipulations. Each team comprised representatives of the larger newspapers, thosebelonging to the small and medium category, the government, as also the main journalists’unions in the state – the Journalists’ Union of Assam, the Assam Union of Working Journalists,the Assam Tribune Employees’ Union, among others. All newspapers were given a date whenthey would be visited by the inspection teams and told to keep relevant records ready.Following a comprehensive process of inspection and assessment, the two teams concludedearly in 2011, that barring two – the Assam Tribune and Prantik – no other newspaper hadimplemented the wage scales proposed by the R.K. Manisana Singh wage board as far back as2002. They recommended that the state government initiate measures, if necessary bywithdrawing advertisements and other forms of implicit support, to induce a more cooperativeattitude on the part of the newspaper industry.Other sanctions were recommended against the newspaper groups that had failed to provide theneeded information to the inspection teams. Alarmingly, news agencies such as the Press Trust of India (PTI) and United News of India(UNI), have departed this time from their tradition of being among the first to implement wageSupported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

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