The National Union of Journalists (India) was formed at a national convention of journalists held in New Delhi on January 23 and 24, 1972 with the inaugural address delivered by eminent jurist M C Chagla and presided over by one of the most distinguished editors, Frank Moraes of the Indian Express.
Mr Akshay Kumar Jain, Editor, Navbharat Times was the chairman of the reception committee. A gallaxy of other leading editors, journalists and press trade union leaders participated in the two-day deliberations. They included, to name a few, Mr V K Narsimhan (Indian Express), Mr D R Mankekar (The Motherland), Mr S K Rau (Searchlight), Mr Meenakshi Sundaram (The Mail), Mr. Prithvis Chakravarty (Hindustan Times), Mr Baleshwar Agarwal (Hindustan Samachar), Mr S R Shukla (Hindustan Standard), Mr P K Roy (The Hindu), Mr Somanath Bhattacharya (Anand Bazar Patrika), Mr K N Malik (Times of India), Mr Hiranmoy Karlekar (Statesman), Rajendra Prabhu (Orbit), Rajendra Kapur and Ram Shankar Agnihotri.
Right from the first day, the NUJ(I) has stood and fought for ameliorating the economic conditions of journalists, promoting their professional and trade union rights, freedom of the press, journalistic ethics, delinking of press ownership from other industries, and protecting and defending the journalists from all kinds of external and internal onslaughts on their independence. The NUJ(I) and its representatives have distinguished themselves by their excellent contribution in several statutory and executive bodies like the Press Council of India, Wage Boards for working journalists, committee on pension for journalists and Press Accreditation Committees at central and state levels etc.
High Traditions, Internal Democracy
NUJ(I) alone among trade unions in the newspaper world, has upheld the highest traditions, imposed self-restraining codes on its leadership and has never compromised on principles. It was set up as a trade union cum professional body to keep journalists trade union movement free from political affiliation, fight for their legitimate rights and uphold freedom of the Press.
NUJ(I) ensures internal democracy by holding regular elections to its executive. Its constitution forbids the two main office bearers, President and Secretary General from occupying more than one term consecutively--again the only journalists union to do so. It does not pass any political resolutions except when politics affects the rights of journalists and the freedom of the Press.
NUJ(I) is an affiliating body, a federal centre with its affiliate unions in most states of the country.
Fight for Freedom of the Press
Within three years of its coming into existence, NUJ(I) faced the biggest challenge when in 1975, Press freedom was snuffed out under the notorious Emergency regulations. NUJ(I), again alone among the journalists unions then, refused to kneel down and opposed the censorship throughout.
A delegation of the NUJ(I) under the leadership of Shri Prithvis Chakravarty, one of our founders and a president, told Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on her face that she was wrong and demanded the lifting of censorship. The result was discrimination against NUJ(I). Several NUJ(I) activists were hauled up for indefinite detention under the dreaded MISA. Among them were Shri Shyam Khosla who was correspondent of Tribune at Rohtak, Shri B M Sinha of Indian Express, Shri Dinanath Mishra of Nav Bharat Times, while several others like Dr. N.K.Trikha, Shri P.K.Roy, Shri Asim Mitra, Shri Arabindo Ghose either lost their accreditation or were harassed in other ways or both. But our spirit could not be curbed.
During the Emergency, despite the government oppression of many of its leading lights, the NUJ(I) stood up courageously by refusing to sign on the dotted line endorsing the hated Prevention of Objectionable Publications Act. The legislation was meant to drain even the last ounze of resistance of the Press against the total censorship that was prevailing. It was another demonstration of the courage of conviction the union.
Then came the notorious Bihar Press Bill. In Patna, NUJ(I)'s Bihar unit was on the forefront of the struggle against it. In Delhi, the NUJ(I) took the lead in organising a joint demonstration against the Bill. In 1988, came the nefarious Defamation Bill. We were relentless in our struggle to get it scrapped. In fact, when the then Minster for I&B called a meeting of Press bodies, NUJ(I) refused to discuss any part of the Bill demanding that it must go lock, stock and barrel. The overtures from Government to accommodate at least the spirit of the Bill were also firmly turned down. Asked whether the organization must compromise or face the doghouse as a consequence,a meeting of NUJ leadership at that time chose the doghouse. Finally, Government relented and the bill was dropped.
For Better Working Conditions
The struggle for better working conditions for working journalists was part of its very existence everyday. The NUJ(I), though kept out of the Palekar Wage Board by a conspiracy of some people in power, consistently supported the work of the Board. The Government did not enforce the Board's recommendation for an interim relief. Taking advantage of the general elections in March 1977, the NUJ(I) called upon the political parties to commit themselves to implementing the interim relief. The Janata Party responded and issued a public statement committing itself to implement it within eight days of coming to power. The NUJ (I) followed up on Janata Government's formation, urging it to notify the interim relief. The then government did.
During the Emergency, the working of the Palekar Board was suspended due to non-cooperation of the employer representatives. After the new Government came to power in March 1977, the NUJ (I) insisted on the renewal of the Board or formation of a tribunal. Accordingly, the then Government passed an act of Parliament to constitute a tribunal. NUJ (I) provided massive evidence before it and its leader Meenakshi Sundaram himself appeared before the Tribunal to argue the working journalists case. In open court, Justice Palekar acknowledged the contribution of the NUJ(I).
In 1984, the NUJ(I) called for a new wage board. Its agitation led to the Rajiv Gandhi government announcing a new wage board under Justice Bachawat in 1985 with NUJ(I) representative and one of the founders of the organization, Mr. Meenakshi Sundaram as a member. He died a year later while working on the wage board papers late at night. Mr. Arun Bagchi, who had distinguished himself in fighting for the rights of Anand Bazar Patrika workers earlier during which struggle he had almost risked his life, replaced him. Mr. Bagchi was also then the president of the NUJ(I).
In presenting the working journalists' case before the Bachawat Board, the NUJ(I) set new standards of excellence and quality. Using audio visual techniques for the first time ever before a wage board, NUJ(I) presented financial analysis of newspaper economics that stunned the newspaper managements. In fact, even the newspaper managements' representatives present at the Boards' sitting could not but applaud the NUJ(I)'s presentation. The NUJ(I) team for the wage board presentation made a deep impression. Mr. Rajendra Prabhu , who was later President of the union, led the team.
While Palekar Board brought part time employed working journalists into the net of wage security and determination, the Bachawat Board attacked the newspapers' tendency to divide their companies into different organizations in order to avoid paying the just wages. In a historic recommendation, it used the doctrine of lifting the corporate veil as suggested by the NUJ(I) to go into the motive behind these sub-divisions and ruled that all such entities would be considered as one single establishment for the purposes of wage determination. The Board also expanded the allowances to include house rent and CCA.
In both the post Palekar and post Bachawat period, the NUJ(I) demonstrated its leadership qualities to the hilt. It was NUJ(I) that approached the then Labour and Industries Minister Mr.. Narayan Dutt Tiwari to get an ordinance issued to amend the Working Journalists Act to stop the retrenchment of journalists employed part time that newspapers were resorting to in the wake of the Tribunal's recommendations covering part timers.
In the case of Bachawat Board, the NUJ(I) took the initiative to convene all unions meeting to get the amendments to the Working Journalists Act suggested by the Bachawat Board passed through a stalled Parliament. The meeting of NUJ(I) activists with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi led to the constitution of a committee to reexamine some of the recommendations of the Board and substantially improve them. At all important meetings of Government functionaries since then NUJ(I) representatives did not fail to raise the issue of proper implementation of the recommendations thereby projecting the issue on the public scene.
The constitution of the next wage board under Justice Raj Kumar Manisana Singh came five years after the Bachawat Board gave its recommendations in 1989. The NUJ(I) was represented by Shri Arun Bagchi once again but he passed away in Delhi even as he was to meet the Union Labour Minister to expedite the formal holding of the board's first meeting. The union then nominated Shri Shyam Khosla, a veteran trade unionist who had organised the working journalists of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh and was bureau chief of Tribune, to represent it in the board. As the board went from place to place holding open hearings, it was evident that it was NUJ(I) representative who was leading the discussions. When it came to explaining the case of the working journalists before the Board also, it was NUJ(I) team that alone of all unions and employer bodies, that made the maximum impact with a three day long presentation. The union also worked with other newspaper/ news agency employees unions to coordinate the worker response to the delays and indecisions in the Board and some of the anti-employee stands that the employers were forcing the Board to take. The coordination with NUJ(I) participation in it was also useful to present the working journalists' case before the Government and Parliament. Several industrial actions were organized to oppose employer tactics to resort to court action to stall the board.
The Wage Board recommendations effective from April 1998, though an improvement over previous wage boards, fell short of working journalists expectation who had waited and waited long for a substantial increase in their wages. The NUJ(I) pursued the matter vigorously and canvassed its case with several Union Ministers including the Union Home Minister L K Advani. Despite strenuous efforts by the employers to confuse the issues, the cabinet made eight improvements in the recommendations to undo injustice to the employees.
From 2003 itself the NUJ(I) brought to the notice of the Government that the environment in which the Manisana Singh wage board recommendations were made, had undergone a rapid change and a new wage board was necessary. But successive governments were turning a deaf ear to the plea. To strengthen newspaper and news agencies workers case for a fresh wage revision and to meet common threats to them, the NUJ(I) worked with other trade union federations in the field to create a Confederation of Newspaper and Newsagencies Journalists and Non-Journalists Unions. The confederation was launched in May 2005. It soon began to collectively press for constitution of a fresh wage revision body and organized several demonstrations in favour of it in New Delhi and several state capitals. The confederation also met with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in this connection. Finally the Government has announced a decision to constitute such a wage board. The formation of the confederation effectively counter balanced the efforts of the newspaper employers to prevent constitution of a fresh wage revision body. NUJ(I) has played an effective role to harmonize the interests of different trade unions in the Press and work for common goals. The confederation members are: All India Newspaper Employees Federation, Indian Journalists Union, PTI Employees Federation and UNI Workers Union.
Pension for Working Journalists
From the 70's onwards the NUJ(I) has been demanding a pension scheme for working journalists. In the 80s one of our former presidents Shri Kapil Verma who was then member of Rajya Sabha lobbied effectively for pension for working journalists. As a result of the NUJ(I)'s work the then Finance Minister in 1988, Shri Narayan Dutt Tiwari included a pension scheme as a government initiative in his budget speech. The report of a committee constituted for the purpose with NUJ(I) representation in it was adopted by the Labour Ministry to create a pension scheme for all employed people. While all benefited from this the scheme itself was not satisfactory for working journalists. The refusal of successive Finance Ministers to include any governmental support for the scheme as originally intended has robbed it of much its attraction.
Maintaining Editorial Freedom
The NUJ(I) has been in the forefront of the struggle to maintain editorial freedom from business and owner interests. At its founding conference in 1972, it called for a diffusion of ownership that would ensure editorial freedom while respecting legitimate business interests of has fought within the limits of available laws to protect this freedom. It has brought before the Press Council of India several cases of violation of this freedom and has obtained successful verdicts.
In the wake of the Bachawat report, the newspaper managements made a strong effort to get the Working Journalists Act scrapped. An affidavit signed by several editors of the Times group was submitted before the Supreme Court against the Act. However, one of the editors of the group publications Dr.N.K.Trikha refused to sign this affidavit and was marked out by the management for punishment for this defiance. Dr. Trikha had earlier been Secretary-General of the NUJ(I) and later headed the organization.
Against Attacks on Journalists
The NUJ(I) has taken up innumerable cases of attacks on working journalists and in many cases have been able to get redressal. To counter police harassment of journalists in Punjab its delegation had met with top officials including the then Governor, the police chief etc and had worked out a strategy that helped many a member. It also took missions to Assam and organized protests wherever the journalists were harassed without fear or favour and irrespective of how powerful the perpetrators of attacks were. Its Andhra unit's fight to get a ruling party MLA prosecuted for attacking a newspaper office and manhandling a journalist has gone into the annals of history. So too were several events in this connection in UP, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Bihar. It organized protests in Mumbai against the then ruling party's harassment of working journalists. Year after year NUJ(I) continues to monitor cases of harassment of journalists and restrictions on Press freedom and effectively register its protests against such attacks. It has for instance protested denial of Press freedom in Nepal; it has organized strong protests against Saudi Arabia for detaining an Indian journalist there on flimsy charges and helped secure his release ultimately. In tandem with the journalists international body IFJ of which NUJ(I) is a member, it has highlighted cases of assaults on Press freedom and independence and on journalists rights of fair reporting, in several geographies of the world.
Meeting Challenge of Technology
As a professional organization the union has taken several initiatives to help working journalists meet the challenge of new technologies in journalism. In 1988, it launched a school of journalism with a corpus of Rs. five lakhs it got from Haryana Chief Minister Devi Lal. In 1998, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee launched the NUJ(I)'s Cyber Journalism Initiative mooted by Shri Rajendra Prabhu. It has encouraged its units to hold seminars and workshops at different places throughout the country to familiarize working journalists with new technologies.
Remaining at the cutting edge of technological change, this union is most conscious of the new challenges facing the working journalists and is all equipped to meet them. With membership in the International Federation of Journalists, the largest representative body of working journalists in the world, it is in constant touch with what is happening elsewhere in the journalistic world.
There are attempts to reduce newspapers to consumer goods advertisement sheets. Newspaper owners are attempting to strip journalists of their privileged position as purveyors of truth and make them mere promoters of slanted information. The pressures to bring journalists under contracts limited to two or three years and without any of the benefits like PF, gratuity etc are under way. There is a concerted conspiracy of newspaper managements to ensure that the working journalists are under their thumb and without any privileges. The NUJ(I) fighting this menace tooth and nail.
The NUJ(I) and its several State units have been regularly holding workshops, seminars, training camps, lectures and discussions to upgrade and reorient professional skills and thinking. Recently, it organised workshops on how to use the RTI Act to enhance the impact of reporting news.
The NUJ(I) has, since its inception, insisted on journalists imbibing and practising tenets of ethical journalism. At its biennial conference in February 1981, it adopted the Agra Declaration of Journalists which was approvingly taken note of by the Second Press Commission.
International activitiesAs a member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), NUJ(I) has played an effective role in promoting press freedom, journalists’ rights both professionally and as employees. NUJ(I) was part of the delegation that IFJ took to ILO to discuss a charter for working journalists. In that meeting the NUJ(I) representative made significant contribution to ensure that employers agree not to accept so called free work for newspapers, pay properly for journalistic work done and respect various other rights of journalists as newspaper employees. However, on the refusal of the newspaper publishers’ delegation to agree to these demands, the conference broke up.
NUJ(I) attended through its different leaders workshops, conferences, seminars and other functions organized by IFJ at various cities in the world to highlight Press issues. At all these conferences held in Japan, Brazil, Canada, Korea, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Italy, Holland, Spain and elsewhere, NUJ(I) representatives made significant contributions. IFJ itself has acknowledged the weighty inputs from the NUJ(I). Our union also organized or participated in South Asia forum that IFJ organized in Dhaka, Colombo, Katmandu and Lahore apart from one in New Delhi. NUJ(I) also participated in a path breaking conference on conflict resolution that IFJ organized in New Delhi. These conferences highlighted plight of journalists in several regions for being fearless at reporting of events or in exposing those in authority, the need to promote tolerance and ethical values in reporting and focus on public issues like AIDS threat, gender discrimination, child abuse and other social malaise in their coverage for newspapers.
The NUJ(I) successfully ran a one year long project for the European Journalism Centre for promoting exchange of news of India with news from European Union. The project also involved exchange of journalists between India and Europe to know more about each other’s country profile and to develop back grounding on India among European journalists and vice versa.
Special Purpose Vehicles
Like skill development, interaction on reporting problems, welfare of its members etc and also collaborated with other institutions with a similar aim. Two of these SPVs sponsored by NUJ(I) are NUJ(I) School of Journalism & Communication and Journalists Welfare Foundation.