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’Save Journalism Charter’ Released by The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ)

19 November 2010

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People’s Democracy, 21 November 2010

THE Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has asked all its members to march to parliament next month on a common charter and called for a united front for intensified action. The DUJ announced this programme while observing the “Save Journalism Day” on November 16. On the occasion, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar released a booklet titled Press for Sale: Watchdog Unmasked.

The observance was at variance with the past convention of observing the day as National Press Day.

Following the observance, the DUJ presented to the Election Commission of India, the information and broadcasting ministry, the labour ministry and leaders of various political parties a broad charter to save journalism for tomorrow.

The charter, released by DUJ general secretary S K Pande, put forward the following demands.

1) A Media Council in place of the Press Council in order to cover and regulate the entire range of print and electronic media. The Media Council must be established through an act of parliament and must have punitive powers to effectively deal with offences by media barons, their organisations and individual journalists. It should be patterned on the Press Council but have greater representation from journalists’ bodies and include independent persons from civil society.

2) Till the time a Media Council is set up, the Press Council’s powers must be increased, specifically by an amendment to Section 15(4) of the Press Council Act 1978, to make its directions binding on government authorities.

3) An independent Media Commission must be set up to study and critically scrutinise the entire range of issues that have arisen due to technological changes and the growth of electronic media, changes in the business environment, the issue of cross-media holdings, the entry of foreign media, the continuing government monopoly of news on radio and other developments that have taken place in the post-globalisation era, affecting the media as well as democracy. This can be patterned on the basis of the first and the second press commissions but it must cover the media spectrum including TV and others.

4) The ‘paid news’ phenomenon must be checked before the credibility of the media is eroded beyond repair. ‘Paid news’ is a phenomenon that exists not only during elections but in the regular working of media groups and must be dealt with as such. In this context, the DUJ feels that there should be special media observers and experts selected to give reports during the national and assembly polls.

5) Consensus must be built among political parties and politicians, journalists, media owners and civil society against the ‘paid news’ evil.

6) Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act 1951 must be amended to declare the exchange of money for ‘paid news’ as a corrupt practice and an ‘electoral malpractice.’

7) The Election Commission of India must take note of the ‘paid news’ phenomenon and act stringently against it. Candidates must be asked to declare any money spent on paying for news as part of election expenses. This disclosure must be made available to the Income Tax authorities to enable them to crosscheck how much money was received legally or otherwise by media groups.

8) The role of the editor in media organisations must be strengthened while the role of managers must be restricted to non-editorial decision making.

9) The status and working conditions of journalists must be improved so that they are less prone to pressures from vested interests and can maintain their professional independence. The system of contract appointments must be done away with.

10) Stringers should be adequately paid and not expected to collect advertisements as this leads to corruption and distortion of news.

11) Journalists must not be assigned to cover or write about social events or news or business events for which media groups are paid.

12) The dubious role of public relations firms and individuals in ‘managing’ publicity for various commercial and other interests needs to be examined and regulated.

13) It must be mandatory for media organisations to fully disclose on their websites, annual reports etc their larger market interests and stock holdings in other business enterprises, so that the public becomes aware of the commercial interests operating behind ostensibly neutral news, including financial news.

14) In print media, news must be clearly distinguished from advertising material that is paid for. They must use different or distinctive fonts and rules between such material and carry a declaration in a bold, easily visible type face that a particular item is an advertisement or sponsored feature. On television, the internet and other electronic media, a declaration must be made regarding the commercial nature of the coverage.

15) The SEBI’s recommendations to the Press Council regarding disclosures of media groups’ stock holdings etc in a particular business when they write about it or feature it as well as the SEBI’s related recommendations, must be endorsed and enforced.

16) The Press Council’s guidelines for financial journalists, advising them not to accept gifts or hospitality from or hold shares etc in companies that they write about should be publicised and circulated to all journalists.

17) The Election Commission’s standing instructions for those responsible for printing and publication of election posters, pamphlets, advertisements etc must be enforced and violators prosecuted.

18) The Supreme Court’s directive that television channels must stop broadcasting campaign related information 48 hours before polling should be extended to the print media.

19) Election frauds by media groups can and must be punished under the laws of the land including the Representation of the People Act and the Indian Penal Code.

20) Ideally, the media must regulate itself by realising that short term financial gains during elections could jeopardise its credibility and long term interests.

21) The media’s internal codes of conduct must be welcomed and observed, such as the Mint daily’s code which outlines in detail that no interviews or coverage should be paid for and that journalists must not accept inducements from companies they write about and must not hold stocks in those companies.

22) In view of criminalisation of politics, the DUJ is of the considered view that there must be a special risk insurance cover for journalists during national and local elections.

23) The Working Journalist Act must be amended by the parliament to cover the entire media and ensure a modicum of just and fair wages in the entire news industry.

As a professional body of journalists, the DUJ extended support to the recommendations made by the Press Council’s subcommittee on paid news but condemned the council’s decision not to make the full report public.