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Journalists At South Asia Meet Call For a New Deal On Wages

Journalists At South Asia Meet Call For a New Deal On Wages and Working Conditions

The  eleventh annual meeting of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) at Kathmandu, between July 21 and 23, takes serious note of the continuing crisis of livelihoods for journalists and media workers in all eight countries of South Asia.

SAMSN seeks to be the common voice of journalists from South Asia. It represents all regional affiliates of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in coalition with journalists' organisations and press freedom partners working for a free and fair media founded on sound and ethical journalism.

The eleventh SAMSN meeting observes that despite statutory protections available in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, the media industry’s compliance with the legal obligations of decent wages and working conditions, remains dismal. Governments have proven powerless in curbing these violations of the law. Neither incentive schemes to improve compliance, nor punitive measures through the denial of government advertisements, have proven effective.

SAMSN observes with concern that the media industry has been increasingly shifting towards contractual and ad hoc forms of employment, putting journalistic autonomy and editorial freedom at serious risk. This has allowed for an uncontrolled incursion of purely commercial considerations in determining media content, culminating in the rampant abuse of “paid news” that is now a matter of growing public concern in India.

SAMSN reiterates its belief that there can be no good and bad contracts in journalism, since this form of short-term and highly insecure employment is designed with intent to divide journalists, increase disparities in compensation between different tiers of media workers and undermine possibilities of collective action for a fair deal.

SAMSN notes that a committee of the Indian Parliament which inquired into the practice of “paid news” has recommended the strengthening of statutory protections available under the country’s Working Journalists’ Act as an essential antidote for this abuse of public trust.

SAMSN will seek to find resources to conduct a baseline survey on wages and working conditions of journalists in all partner countries, as part of the effort to seek an all-round improvement. Aside from the journalists who are on statutory wage scales and those who are contract, SAMSN notes with alarm that the number of media practitioners working with not even the minimum security of a letter of appointment has been increasing rapidly.

In Afghanistan, journalists are denied wages for months together and contracts are written to minimise opportunities and choice, as by stipulating a cooling off period between six months and a year for journalists seeking to change jobs.

SAMSN notes that its partner organisations in Nepal have had some success through petititoning the Supreme Court, specifically in ending the denial of minimum statutory wages and employment security for employees of state-owned media. SAMSN observes that Nepal has clauses in its Working Journalists’ Act which require a fund being set up for skills development of journalists. Though Nepal has the best law on paper, its record of implementation is as poor as elsewhere.

SAMSN extends its support to its partner, the Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA) in its effort to ensure passage of a working journalists’ act before the current term of its national parliament expires.

Partners in Sri Lanka are now engaged in a campaign to secure an upward revision of the minimum wages prescribed for journalists. SAMSN fully endorses this campaign and calls for necessary protections for the right to form unions and associations, guaranteed under Sri Lankan law but often denied in reality.

SAMSN observes with satisfaction that the prolonged campaign of obstruction of the Seventh Wage Award for Pakistan’s journalists and newspaper workers has been ended by authoritative rulings from the Supreme Court. This has come a decade too late, at precisely the time that an Eighth Wage Award should be coming into force. SAMSN urges Pakistan’s newly constituted Wage Board for Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees to address all procedural issues and arrive at a final determination without undue delay.

SAMSN is deeply concerned that the Majithia Wage Board’s award for journalists and other newspaper workers, determined in December 2010, continues to be blocked by the Indian newspaper industry, which has yet again petitioned the Supreme Court on grounds that have repeatedly been held invalid.

Despite conducting two weeks of hearings on the matter in February 2013, the Supreme Court of India in April, declined to issue a final judgment on the grounds that one member of the two-judge bench that had heard the case, was soon to retire.

Hearings have since commenced before a new bench. SAMSN urges the early disposal of the case in line with established judicial precedent, followed by a serious effort by the Indian government and all relevant state authorities to ensure its scrupulous implementation.

ENDS

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