ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Not-so-Fine Print

Working conditions of print journalists remain poor.

In January this year, the Supreme Court upheld the recommendations of the Justice Majithia Wage Board for Working Journalists and dismissed the spirited challenges by a number of newspaper managements and the Indian Newspaper Society. This was the seventh wage board for journalists (there are separate ones for non-journalists in the newspaper industry) under the Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955. The irony is that except for a very few states like Kerala and a minuscule number of newspapers in other states, the practice now is to hire journalists on contract, bypassing the wage board completely. Journalists are paid a lump sum without any welfare benefits and they can be dismissed at will. Except for some newspapers the mainstream publications had, ever since the wage board’s award came out in 2010, conducted only diatribes against the award. The burden of opinion pieces by either the owners or top executives (usually in their own publications) was that small newspapers would be forced to close down while the bigger ones would be crippled. While five journalists’ trade unions and federations fought the challenges in court, there was nary a word from journalists or any form of public protest. The entire scenario illustrates well the working conditions of journalists in the country today.

The big media houses contested the validity of the Working Journalists Act saying it infringed on their fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Their other arguments were that the award would cover only the print media while the internet, television and mobile phones which also disseminated information did not come under the wage board. What remains unexplained by the corporate media is that if the Assam Tribune can implement the wage board (its management did not wait for the Supreme Court ruling) the giant media houses which rake in advertising revenues can hardly complain. What is noteworthy here is that not only is there no mechanism to ensure or monitor the implementation of the wage board awards in newspapers, the contracts on which many journalists are hired by newspapers include the condition that the managements will not be dragged to court for not implementing the wage board award.

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