The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) is perturbed by recent developments in the media. Seen in totality, these events clearly point towards a crisis that is deeply rooted in the neo-liberal order and the rise of right-wing political forces openly allied to crony capitalists and international finance.
At one level, we are faced with an Indian state that has become totally allergic to any kind of dissent. Journalists, social activists and political opponents of various hues are all treated as “enemies of the state” and subjected to every manner of falsehood, ignominy and oppression. In the process, Central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI, etc ,have been reduced to nefarious and partisan organs of terror. The recent ED raids on the news portal NewsClick are part of this miasmic and arbitrary pattern. Even fig leaves have now been discarded.
All the time, journalists are being jailed under The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1962 and senior editors are accused of sedition and other grave charges like inciting communal disharmony. Journalists face contempt and defamation cases; are routinely attacked and denied access to official events of public importance. In India, where the process itself is punitive, such actions have a prolonged chilling effect.
At the second level, the state plays the role of a Dhritirashtra-like blind observer when media managements brazenly go on the rampage by refusing to implement the Supreme Court-approved Majithia Wage Board Award; by sacking journalists/arm-twisting journalists to submit their resignations; by unilaterally docking salaries; by directing staff to go on “voluntary” leave without pay,etc. The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and The Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Misc. Provisions Act, 1955 have long ago been discarded by media moguls. The Indian state and, unfortunately, the judiciary, have been reduced to the role of a claque in these bloody proceedings.
At the third level, the Indian state has swiftly dismantled the historic rights to be entitled to certain working conditions that journalists and other workers had struggled to win since Independence. The recent enactment of the four Labour Codes clearly signals the ushering in of a new era of accumulation wherein contract labour and casual labour will be the order of the day and the social relations of production will be barbarically changed to the detriment of those who work for a living, be it physical or mental exertion. Already thousands of journalists have lost their jobs with no prospect whatsoever of ever being gainfully employed again.Thousands of others were forced to accept massive wage-cuts.
Seen within this larger context, these hammer-blows are not directed only against journalists and the right to freedom of expression and speech: they are aimed at our fragile democratic polity such as it is. It is high time that journalists and their severely-fragmented organisations wake up to the authoritarian reality that is fast unfolding before our very eyes. Before it is too late.
Indra Kumar Jain Gen Secretary