India: Declare Journalists as ‘Frontline Workers’, Enact Safety Law: IJU04 May, 2021
On World Press Freedom Day today, the Indian Journalists Union drew the Union government’s urgent attention to the grim fact that over hundred journalists have lost their lives this past year, 45 alone in the second wave of the pandemic across the country. In a letter to both Prime Minister Modi and President Kovind, the IJU said journalists are carrying out their duties, despite all odds, to have a better informed public during this crisis, and its incumbent on the government to facilitate the functioning of the media, the fourth pillar of democracy, and declare the journalists too as ‘frontline workers’.
At a meeting held online of its member States, including the North East, to observe WPFD, the IJU said the demand has been raised earlier but not acted upon. It is all the more relevant today, it said, as this year’s WPFD theme is “Information as a Public Good,” and “it serves as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind.”
The IJU also urged an advisory be issued that all journalists be given free vaccination and on a priority basis. Besides, an insurance scheme to cover journalists be announced as provided to ‘frontline workers’ as they too are part and parcel of essential services.
In a statement, IJU President and former Member, Press Council of India Geetartha Pathak and Secretary General and IFJ Vice President Sabina Inderjit reiterated demand for a special safety law for journalists be enacted. There is harassment and intimidation of journalists, arbitrary detentions, false cases under draconian laws such as sedition, UAPA and NSA, specially in BJP-ruled States, particularly UP. Besides, there has been a steady downgrading of India’s press freedom index.
The Union welcomes the Supreme Court’s direction and warning there ‘shouldn’t be any clampdown on information’ as it will be treated ‘as contempt of court’. ‘If citizens communicate their grievance on social media and internet it cannot be said it’s wrong information,” the court noted.