Slough off Working Journalists Act

In the absence of ‘sunset clause’ in our legal set up, we have to often face innumerable new set of problems, which crop up due to the surging pace of technology, generational gap and growing population. Our Working Journalists Act, 1955 is afflicted with similar problems. When this Act was passed by Parliament on the recommendations of the first Press Commission headed by Justice Rajyadhyaksha, it was a revolutionary act indeed but now it has largely become irrelevant.
Till this Act was enacted the word journalist was absolutely amorphous. Anybody, even with the nodding acquaintance with the press, used to claim to be a journalist. The famous editor and the founder president of the Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) M. Chelapathi Rau had postulated in an article that even the reader of the newspapers or magazines could lay claim to be a journalist. The Working Journalists Act of 1955, however, cleared the mist to a great extent about who can be said to be a journalist. The Act provided a fair amount of protection to journalists, who used to be hired and fired till then on the whims and fancies of the proprietors. Journalists got the protection of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947; this was a revolutionary step indeed for journalist and non journalist employees.
The Akashvani was the only audio-visual media then and it was, as it is now also, under the control of the government. Then the Television came in 1959, which became household name only after 1984. There was the one and only TV channel and it was Doordarshan till 1995. After the opening up of the economy private channels came into play with great zeal and fervour. Within a short span of six-seven they changed the airspace of the Television beyond even wildest imaginations. Today news and entertainment channels are beaming across the length and breadth of the country. Coverage of news and its telecasting have become cheap. Every day we find new players having even the modest resources are jumping into the ring. With mushroom growth of television channels, the problems have also increased manifold with leaps and bounds. There is no job security for the employees. Again, who is a journalist and who is not- this question has on the surface.
On the other hand, the general public also feels aggrieved with undue and unwarranted interference in the privacy by the TV channels. There is no regulatory mechanism and Lakshman Rekha for the channels. It is no holds barred. What is ethical and what is not, what is the limit or who will draw it remains unclear. The discretion of individual can run riot in the absence of any regulation and that is what we are witnessing today. Salacious news, character assassination, fantasizing of the crimes has become the norms rather than exceptions. There are hardly any qualms and compunctions for the innocent Uma Khuranas, Gudiyas or Arushis in the TV channels. This is leading to aberrations in the print media also. This eloquently proves that the pathetic inadequacy of the Working Journalists Act.
The Wage Board for newspaper employees in born out of the Working Journalists Act and it does not cover the employees working for the electronic medium whose number is definitely more than the print medium. Similarly the Press Council of India came into existence on the recommendations of the Press Commission. The very process of the constitution of the Press Council of India suffers from lacuna. It is not at all a representative body of the press and that is why people look at it more with disdain than with even semblance of respect. Again it does not represent the electronic medium. This is the reason that the Indian Federation of Working Journalists has reiterated its demand during its working committee meeting at Bhopal on 24th August 2008 for the dissolution of the Press Council of India and its replacement with the Media Council. It should be left to genuine journalists and their representative organisations to constitute with the least interference of the government.
The constitution of the Wage Board needs to be given a fresh look encompassing the electronic media. The contractual appointment of employees deserves to be given urgent attention because it is causing untold miseries to the employees. Thus it is clear that almost all laws and Acts related to journalism and journalists have become out dated and they need to be sloughed off without any further delay. This is possible when mother of the journalists’ related acts-The Working Journalists Act is drastically recast and enacted. The journalists and newspaper employees union must have to redefine their roles in view of the cataclysmic changes that have taken place in the industry.