Endangered journalists on the horizon

By Mrinal Biswas, Former president, IJA
KOLKATA: Country’s journalists are the most endangered species now. They are being fired right and left, facing pay cuts or being laid off at random. Not rare is the case of held up due payments to the scribes  for an indefinite  period.  News industry owners have become most ruthless in the midst of pandemic. the mayhem of the media employees began  before the onset of global phenomenon though (Read Massacre of Newspersons published by the Indian Journalists’ Association in March 2017).
The strange stand of the Press barons naming outcast a major part of their staff strength is based on their complaints against  governments’ disinclination to meet their costs of publications etc. Because the governments are said  to be holding up payments against advertisements making the media owners so much of fund crunch as to force them to trim the staff strength. This is a blatant distortion of facts because governments always take time to pay up and the media owners make most of the revenue gains by space selling to the corporates and all kinds of buyers of newspaper space.
Stranger still is that some among the journalists also plead for early liquidation of governments’ dues to the print and electronic media with the infantile  argument that only then will the paymasters  come to the rescue of the journalists. Why they do not understand that there is an inherent contradiction between the employers (paymasters) and their journalist employees. Their basic interests are mutually exclusive.
Those journalists pleading for governments’ payments to news industry owners have not only bring shame to the fraternity but expose the whole Press world  to the manipulations of the power that be. The government-induced said fund crunch opened up the reversal of  the basic tenets of the labour laws and encourage the employers to deny their employees their rights to work.
After sweeping deregulation moves in the economic sector the central government is set to amalgamate all labour laws into a single form of Labour Code making the existing protecting armours of labourers and employments most vulnerable.
In the dawn of independence Chalapati Rao, Editor of National Herald, led some leading journalists to persuade Prime Minister J L Nehru for giving journalists a distinct status for employee newspersons. This gave rise to The Working Journalists (Conditions of Service) And Miscellaneous  Provisions Act 1955. This law defined who should be designated  as newsmen with security provision having their rights, duties and scales of pay. There was a specific provision for the right of appeal for any terminated  newsman, in the courts of law in the final analysis. So hiring newsmen was the employers’ prerogative but firing them at their sweet will was greatly limited. The Nehru Government’s bestowing honour and dignity to the journalists is still remembered as a great event in the journey towards Press freedom.
That course has now not only been halted  it has been entirely reversed by the fat-to-fatter Newsindustry owners who had always been hostile to the journalists’ act. Long before knowing the heavy dilution of ensuing laws the Press barons have started a cat and mouse game with their journalist employees keeping in their stable only  amenable persons in the editorial departments. Others are easily dispensable and in fact subjected to massive marching orders.
Present generation of journalists cannot escape the blot on the shrunken space of their noble role either. Agreed they had to bite the employers dictation at the entry point of joining the profession on some forms of contractual  terms. It was the buyers market, no doubt. What is regrettable is their continued compromising stance and have never shown any intention to assert for coverage under the journalists’ act and any movement thereof.
Newsindustry owners have a free hand as a consequence and they apply the button to push out their editorial staff without giving any reason whatsoever.

CPUJ condemns attack on journalists by liquor mafia, deplores role of police

CHANDIGARH: The Chandigarh Punjab Union of Journalist (CPUJ) has condemned the incident of brutal attack on Journalists on 18th August at Pandori Kalan village of District Taran Taran.
President of CPUJ, Vinod Kohli, has said that the Pandori Kalan incident has proved that there is absolute lawlessness in Punjab and lives of law abiding citizens are in grave danger. Attack on journalists by liquor mafia goons has proved that these criminals have no fear of law.
Kohli also condemned the role of police in this matter. The behavior of local police officials really confirms that these guys are hand in glove with criminals and are protecting their interest instead of the general public, says Kohli.
He demanded that the entire matter should be investigated thoroughly and guilty, weather mafia goons or police personnel, should be punished. He demanded dismissal of police personal like ASI Mukhtiar Singh who have threatened the journalists and failed to act against the culprits.
On 18th August, local reporters of PTC News Pawan Kumar Sharma, his Cameraman Sarabjit Singh, Harinder Singh of Ajit along with Vikas Marwah went to village Pandori Kalan to cover the death of one Dilbagh Singh. It is the same village where more than dozen persons have died after consuming illicit liquor a few days back. It was said that Dilbagh Singh too died after consuming illicit liquor. All four journalists were abused and beaten by Kulwinder Singh alias Babbu, the liquor don of the village and his goons. Pawan Sharma was especially there target as he was kicked and abused repeatedly and illicit liquor was also poured in his mouth.
Police officials of Thana Sadar Taran Taran reached at the spot after an hour but instead of taking action against the goons, they took the journalist illegally to Police Station and threatened them of dire consequences.

How the news ecosystem is changing in India

By Suvojit Bagchi

KOLKATA: Traditional journalism disseminated by newspaper has witnessed many highs and lows in India since the first English language newspaper — the Bengal Gazette — by James Hickey was published in 1779 or Indian language press started publishing in the first half of the 19th century. Besides, governmental restrictions, economic slowdown and growth of television had shaken the newspaper industry but never before it was asked if print would survive in India or not. Over last four months, since the lockdown began, Indian newspaper industry — which was running at a snail’s pace — collapsed. The immediate impact was on many of the employees who were asked to step down. The reason is an outstanding loss of revenue.

Indian Newspaper Society, which represents around 1,000 publishers, expects that the industry may lose around USD 2 billion by the year-end, which is almost half of its 2019 revenue. The revenue may come back to the print to an extent once the economy recovers but it is difficult to predict the size of the return as the economy is contracting. Naturally, the companies will cut publicity budget damaging the print further. This is worrying as newspapers are still credible because of the format, which is “fixed”, as the editor of The Guardian, Katharine Viner explained.

“A newspaper is complete. It is finished, sure of itself, certain. By contrast, digital news is constantly updated, improved upon, change,” Viner said. This “complete” ness is newspapers’ strength. Once something is published, it cannot be changed unlike in television or digital platforms. But challenges for fixed format are growing.

The most critical factor is the growth of the news carriers — Google, Facebook and others. On one hand they carry news produced by someone else and on the other they suck the lifeblood — the revenue — of the newspapers. Newspapers, or even television channels, will have to bypass Google and Facebook to survive. Question is — how do they do that? Many feel, by producing high value content with subscription from readers on digital platforms, is the way forward.

One of the biggest turnaround stories is that of The New York Times (NYT), which was reducing jobs about a decade back, and now posting serious profit in 2017-18. The NYT has managed to bring back what belongs to them, the revenue, by ensuring a smooth roll out — from free to non-free content — with the help of a cutting edge technical team. Indian papers ought to follow, but are divided about the model and not without a reason. The big dilemma is: are Indian readers interested in high value content paying a price, when free content is widely available? It is not easy to answer this question.

Newspapers biggest asset, its infrastructure, is also its problem. It is huge, as the industry is labour intensive with large editorial teams, printing press, circulation and marketing networks. Most of the papers subsidise the cost of production, with advertising revenue. That source was drying up, even before Covid-19 hit the world, while it was growing on digital.

“Digital advertising in 2019 witnessed a 26% increase over 2018 to reach Rs 13,683 crore, even as overall advertising witnessed a sober 9.4% growth,” concluded a January 2020 report. In comparison, print grew by 4.5% in 2019, indicating that the gap between print and digital is narrowing, with digital having a relatively small operation. Digital has one small centralised unit to commission and run the platform while catering to consumers with audio, text and video content. They source content from contributors with a fee and far less overhead cost.

The other ‘problem’ of newspapers is, howsoever biased, a paper has a legacy to establish that it does not take sides; it is objective and unbiased. The readers, on the other hand, often love to read biased stories, they like campaigns for or against candidates. Large section of digital is designed to excite and polarise people, which is exactly the opposite of what newspapers tend to practice.

The public demand for biased information has created organisations such as Cambridge Analytica (CA), which studies and modifies behavior of users for political parties. CA, which is now defunct, and similar organisations, use psychographics to create stories, often to swing elections.

“These stories and incendiary posts bounce between social networks, including Facebook, its subsidiary Instagram and Twitter. They often perform better than content from real people and media companies. Bots generated one out of every five political messages posted on Twitter in America’s presidential campaign [2016],” noted The Economist in 2017. Campaigns, often targeted and personal, on social media are often made to look like news using range of social-media tools, texts, videos, documents — a practice described as ‘doxing’. Doxing, a parallel news industry, is a premier threat to serious news.

In this context, some very high-end journalism is evolving which has already taken shape in the West. For example, the editor of The Economist Zanny Minton Beddoes has highlighted that a team of medical professionals, and not just journalists or writers has managed the newspaper’s non-stop Covid-19 coverage.

In India, specialised news portals such as like Live Law, are gaining momentum. A partly funded and partly subscription-based model, Live Law covers courts with about two dozen staffers, freelancers and few contributors. All of the writers have a legal background and the specialised legal news platform is growing steadily. Increasingly, newspapers are facing challenges from specialised platforms such as Live Law.

Finally, individual driven video blogs, social media platforms, messaging groups and applications are scoring huge traction as well, driving away traffic from newspapers’ portals as consumers realise that their messages on social media can act faster. Thus consumers are arguably moving away from traditional media, globally.

The serious news business can still survive by providing high value content, as it still has a robust reporting team, curated by solid, old school editors who are not averse to technology and ready to work with the fast paced and upcoming generation. Newspapers or serious news business just cannot do one thing — that is newsgathering — anymore, but engage with everything from embracing technology to working with multiple small outlets and individuals with a better understanding of digital ecosystems, from telling stories in multiple formats to exploring alternative marketing strategies. Hopefully, papers would focus on these realities before it is too late.

(This article first appeared in orfonline.org. It is being reproduced here with the permission of the author).

AGM put off due to COVID-19

he Executive Committee of the IJA met on Saturday, March 21, 2020, and decided to postpone the AGM, scheduled to be held on March 29, 2020, at Press Club, Kolkata, indefinitely because of safety concerns of members’ health and their wellbeing due to the spread of Corona virus.
A fresh date and time of the AGM will be notified later.
This is the first time in the history of IJA that an AGM was postponed.
Sekhar Sengupta
General Secretary

Durgapur Unit panel dissolved

The Indian Journalists’ Association has dissolved the recently formed unit at Durgapur due to lack of coordination among its members.
A small but important IJA team, headed by the IJA President and General Secretary, visited the district town on March 8, 2020, Sunday, to give a chance to the members to express their views on the working of the district unit headed by Rana Mukherjee as its president and Biplab Bhattacharya as secretary.
The IJA team heard a cross-section of members and their grievances and found it prudent to dissolve the existing committee and appoint one of the senior-most journalist Rana Mukherjee as the interim convenor to liaison with the State body.
The IJA will put in place a system to resolve various issues bothering the district unit at the earliest and appoint a new committee to run the affairs of Durgapur Unit in West Bardhaman.
As a follow up of the meeting in Durgapur, IJA invited the Unit’s former President and Secretary to IJA office on March 17, 2020, to find a solution to the vexed matter.
It was decided to take up the issue once again after the IJA annual meeting.
Sekhar Sengupta
General Secretary

Bardhaman hosts IJU NEC meeting

All most all the delegates who attended the National Executive Committee Meeting of the Indian Journalists Association, New Delhi, were full of praise for the host IJA and it’s Bardhaman District Unit.
Though the attendance was a bit thin, the meeting did serve it’s purpose to take some key decisions.
Speaking before the members, special invitee and one of the founder-members of the IJU, Shri Suresh Akhouri, said that the IJA was hosting a national level meeting after three decades. He praised the role of IJA President, S. Sabanayakan, efforts of Vice-president, Tarak Nath Roy and the support of General Secretary, Sekhar Sengupta in organising the two-day meeting.
Indian Journalists’ Association, an affiliated state unit of Indian Journalists Union, New Delhi, organised the meeting at Bardhaman, district HQ of East Bardhaman district, on January 22-23, 2020. Many NEC members and Presidents and Secretaries of state unions attended the meeting.
IJA, which was established in 1922, will soon celebrate its 100th year in 2022.
The IJU NEC meeting was inaugurated by Shri Sukumar Hansda, deputy speaker, West Bengal Legislative Assembly. Shri Swapan Debnath, minister of state, Depts of Animal Resources Development (Independent Charge) and Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises and Textiles (Tex. & HL), Government of West Bengal, was the special guest.
Among the dignitaries from IJU, the prominent ones who attended the NEC meeting were President Shri BR Prajapati (Gujarat), Secretary General Shri G. Prabhakaran (Kerala), Special invitee and former President, Shri Suresh Akhouri ( Delhi), Vice-president Shri Vinod Kohli (Chandigarh-Punjab), National Secretary Shri Unniraja Vikraman (Kerala).
From the host side President IJA and National Secretary, Shri S. Saba Nayakan, General Secretary Shri Sekhar Sengupta and NEC member Shri Tarak Nath Roy, IJA Secretary Debashis Das, IJA Bardhaman District Unit President Shri Debabrata Chatterjee and General Secretary Shri Mithilesh Roy attended the meeting.
On the occasion of Netaji’s birthday on January 23, the NEC meeting was preceded by celebrating Netaji’s birth anniversary. President Prajapati unfurled the National flag and Secretary Prabhakaran garlanded a picture of Netaji following which the gathering sang the national anthem.
Shri Sukumar Hansda distributed mementos.
Shri Sukumar Hansda distributed mementos.
Shri Swapan Debnath addressing NEC members.
Shri Swapan Debnath addressing NEC members.
A group picture of NEC members.
A group picture of NEC members.
IJU President BR Prajapati unfurling the tricolour on the occasion of Netaji Jayanti
IJU President BR Prajapati unfurling the tricolour on the occasion of Netaji Jayanti

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