Working Journalist Act must be Amended to Instil Trust in the Profession

Some people, who have neither any understanding of media nor its constitutional position, have been making thoughtless and stupid demands for the Journalist Protection Act. Some bluff masters have even been circulating the rough draft of the Act, which they are proposing in their delusion to be introduced in Parliament. These self-styled leaders or champions of media freedom have never stood by journalists in their thick and thin, weal or woe. It must be reiterated here that there is no mention of freedom of the press or media in the constitution of India. It is the freedom of speech and expression that was hotly debated in the constituent assembly, and it finds a pride place in Article 19 (1) as a fundamental right. Part III and Part IV of the Indian Constitution deal with Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy., While Fundamental Rights are enforceable and justiciable, the Directive Principles of State Policy, are neither enforceable nor justiciable but the state will always strive to achieve them.
The freedom of media or the press is, therefore, derived from the Constitution that speaks of the protection of certain rights of all citizens like; freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peaceably and without arms, to form associations or unions, to move freely throughout the territory of India, to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business. Hence, the freedom of a journalist is neither more nor less than the freedom of any citizen. However, the very next sub-clause 2 empowers the State from making any law for imposing reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency, or morality or about contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence.
Thus, it needs no emphasis that the State is duty-bound to provide protection to every citizen of the country, not only journalists. There is no gainsaying that the work of a journalist is different from other professionals. S/he is more susceptible to attacks and allegations by works that s/he performs but the real guarantee can come to a journalist from society, not by law. The life of a journalist is as hazardous or safe as those of a lawyer or a doctor, social worker, writer or any professional but that does not mean that there should be a separate law for the protection of every profession.
What, in fact, is needed is that the law meant for all persons should be effectively and will provide safety and security to all professionals. There is no need for a separate law, which could create a false sense of security

among journalists. Objectivity and boldness will ensure the respect and safety of a journalist, which has been considerably eroded by indulging in false and fake news.
Who is a journalist? This question has been raging from the time the country achieved independence. Some twenty-five years ago, this question came up before the Press Council of India, which had no relevance either then, or now but it was important from the point of view that it was and is an Appellate Authority against the orders of the RNI in matters relating to the cancellation of the registration or denial of the titles of the newspapers/ periodicals. The late Phoolan Devi, who was then a Member of Parliament, had applied for the title of a newspaper, which was not allotted to her on the ground that she was illiterate, so how could she be a journalist? The then Chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice P B Sawant asked a question to the authorities where was it written that to be an owner of a newspaper or a journalist should be necessarily educated? When other newspapers have employed journalists to bring out their publications, similarly she can also do the same thing. Before 1955, when the Working Journalist Act was enacted, there was only print media. Akashwani (Radio) was the only electronic medium that was in government control and its employees were governed by government rules. There is no qualm or compunction in accepting the fact that despite the Working Journalist Act, the journalists belonging to the print medium have hardly got any protection about their wages and security of jobs. This is because of the shoddy implementation by the corrupt officials of the labour department and the tardy judiciary.
Now with the unprecedented expansion of electronic and web media, it is more important that the ken or the ambit of the Working Journalist Act is expanded, and its implementation is made more effective. Apart from it, the definition of a working journalist should be made clear, so that those who fall within the meaning of the journalist could claim some benefits to which the Act entitles them. Anyway, to save the prestige of the journalistic profession, some sort of registration rolls for the journalists must also be prepared a la Advocates, Doctors or the Chartered Accountants.
Parmanand Pandey
Secy. Gen.: IFWJ