India’s Press Club Becoming a Place of Recreation for Journalists

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Licenses of a liquor bar to the press clubs may not make news in India, but if a journalists’ trade union body possesses a liquor license to run a bar itself may emerge as stuff for an interesting item in the media. The press club, which on principle does not function as a trade union body, is basically a place of recreations for media persons. But the journalists union or associations have the moral obligation to raise voices for due benefits of media persons and hence they are also entitled for protest demonstrations as and when needed.

So ethically speaking a journalist trade union body should not pursue for recreational activities and it must not own a liquor license (meant for a bar in its office). But if you come to Guwahati, the virtual capital of northeast India, you would encounter a journalist union that owns a liquor license, which was recently in the media in reference to a court verdict. The Gauhati High Court, in an interim order on September 18, 2012 in regards to some wine shops in the city expressed ‘dismay and astonishment that a liquor license has been granted to the Journalist Union of Assam’.

Justice Ujjal Bhuyan of the high court, while passing the order also mentioned about the location (of JUA office that possesses the bar) is approximately 110 meters from a Hindu religious place which ‘requires introspection’. The court earlier in an order passed on July 9 directed the closure of all liquor shops and bars within a radius of 500 metres of educational institutions and religious places. “The Court while perusing the list of 431 Liquor Licenses furnished by the Deputy Commissioner found to its dismay and astonishment that a liquor license has been granted to the Journalist Union of Assam in Sl. No.248 without disclosing whether it is a bar or wine shop. The location is shown as Zoo-Narengi Tiniali and is located at a distance of approximately 110 meters from a Namghar and a sanction order was issued on 18.02.2009. Without commenting any further, Justice Ujjal Bhuyan is of the view that this certainly requires introspection on the part of all concerned,” said in the order.

Geetarha Pathak, the president of Journalist Union of Assam, which is affiliated to Indian Journalist Union, was communicated for his response in this regard on September 19, but nobody responded. It is alleged that the journalist union, which should have raised voice for basic minimum facilities for the media persons under the Indian Labour Act, has done little in this matter. Otherwise everybody knows that the media persons of Assam have to perform their duties under tremendous work-load but with low return in terms of salary and other legitimate facilities. The State witnessed a media boom in the last decade, but the media persons including the journalists continued to be the victim of exploitation by their respective employers.

“There is no denying the fact that the journalists, who remained vocal against the exploitation faced by the workers in other sectors, have to work in most unsafe ambiances. They are denied their due economic benefits recommended by the statutory wage boards constituted by the government and even the relevant labor laws. As most of them work without proper appointment letters, they enjoy little job security. Similarly the insurance coverage for the media persons continues to be awful,” said in an article released by The Cheer magazine.

Today Guwahati witnesses the publication of more than 25 morning dailies, half of those are in the Assamese language. Most of the dailies are published from more than one center, whereas three Assamese daily newspapers claim to enjoy around 100 000 circulation.

Lately, six satellite news channels have emerged from the city, adding hundred more working journalists to the team of the sentinels.

“This is very unfortunate that media persons in Assam have to work with a salary starting with even Rs. 2000 with absolutely no job security. You can find more than 70 % newspaper employees in Assam, who are deprived of basic minimum facilities such as appointment letter, leave, provident fund, ESI etc,” said DN Singh, a senior journalist based in Guwahati. Rajendra Prabhu, a senior journalist and an office-bearer of National Union of Journalists (India), while speaking to this writer, informed that ‘NUJ does not encourage its union offices around the country to have a bar’. Prabhu declared that he personally does not endorse any working journalist to get associated with the liquor business and he reiterates that the journalists should continue trying to improve their credibility all the time.

Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Northeast India) based journalist, who contributes to NewsBlaze and various media outlets throughout the world.