The historical convention of Journalists of Orissa, held in the State Information Center, (Jaya Dev Bhawan) has resolved to observe December 14 as the Day of Media Unity for Freedom of Press every year.
It was a congregation of scribes beyond boundaries of trade unions to express solidarity with Laxman Choudhury and his family, tortured by the State as he stayed true to the callings of his profession and went on filing reports on the nexus between the police and the marijuana underworld.
Choudhury was arrested by the police at Mohana on September 20, 2009 and thrown into the jail from where he was released on bail by the High Court of Orissa only on December 1. The police have framed up him under charges of sedition on flimsy grounds such as seizure of Maoist leaflets addressed to him in transit from a private bus.
Discretionary power over bail mustn’t be discriminatory
The system has gone so astray that when discernible looters of Orissa’s mineral wealth are granted bail or anticipatory bail in remarkable speed, it took a journalist long forty days to get back his liberty on bail from the High Court, even with a legal luminary like Jagannath Pattanayak voluntarily pleading his case, roared Rabi Das, stressing on the need for reform of laws governing bail so that the discretionary power no further remains discriminatory.
Protection of Freedom of Press a must for survival of democracy
Prasanta Patnaik, presiding over the convention, had set tone to the deliberations with the clear message that no journalist should feel abandoned by his friends in the profession when loyalty to his duties lands him / her in framed up cases or in any other disadvantage. The media unity evolved in protest against harassment of scribes will continue to stand solidly behind tortured scribes in future, he declared. He called into memory the atrocities perpetrated on uncompromising reporter Swaroop Jena by the fellows in power that were being exposed threadbare by him and how the unsung hero had finally succumbed to that brutality. He gave a vivid description of all the instances of atrocities the scribes have been subjected to because of their commitment to their profession and called upon all section of the public to stand with the scribes for protection of freedom of press.
Evil design of plutocracy needs be defeated
Subhas Chandra Pattanayak stated that since diversification of priority from welfare to industry, journalists in increasing numbers have been subjected to administrative atrocities in Orissa, because as sentinels of society they have exposed the foul play of the profiteers and their politico-executive cohorts. Swaroop Jena was the first victim. Portending more rigorous prosecution against journalist as plutocracy would try to tighten its grip, Pattanayak recalled Dr.Ambedkar, who, in his concluding answer to debates on the last day of the Constituent Assembly, had warned that economic dissimilarity, which the Assembly had been forced to accommodate under peculiar circumstances vitiated by overwhelming presence of the propertied class in it, would eventually destroy democracy if the first Parliament elected by the masses fails to remove the contradiction. Regrettably the Parliament failed and the contradiction is continuing and the agents of the rich have transformed democracy to plutocracy, he pointed out. Journalists are proud of comprising the forth estate in democracy. They cannot cherish changing to forth estate of plutocracy. Hence the agents of plutocracy never feel secured before a fearless press. This is why they use and will always use all the methods of intimidation against the uncompromising journalists, he warned and welcomed the emergence of the new media forum to save the last hope for democracy, the forth estate.
Felicitation to Choudhury is symbolic of media solidarity
Sudhir Pattanaik harped on consolidation of media unity even as Jatin Dash emphasized on eternal intelligence against impediments to freedom of press. RTI activist Biswajeet Mohanty, progressive advocate Biswapriya Kanungo and Prof. Nilamani Sahoo welcomed the convention and pledged their support to the community of scribes in their mission of protecting free press. Eminent activists like Uma Ballav Rath and Radhakanta Sethi were present. Jiten Padhi, Satyajit Mishra and Bana Bihari Mohanty expressed that the convention itself is indicative of how misuse of power against media has crossed tolerable limits. Soumyajit Pattanayak emphasized on the need of a space for solidifying togetherness amongst media persons. Prafulla Das in his introductory address expressed that the felicitation to Laxman Choudhury is symbolic of the solidarity of scribes in the cause of democracy and coordinated the convention.
Journalists have the right to peruse political literature including Maoist ones
On behalf of the media community, Sampad Mohapatra thanked Jagannath Pattanaik, former President of Bar Council of India, for having voluntarily taken up the case of Choudhury and for his pleadings, which fetched the bail. He also thanked Advocate Jayant Dash for his similar role in Lenin Roy case. It was a mockery of administration of law to have entertained a misconceived police allegation hurling sedition charges at Choudhury on the basis of its unilateral seizure of Maoist leaflets from a private bus conductor allegedly meant for delivery to him. Were it been real that Choudhury was the person to whom the leaflet packet was addressed, how any sane man could found sedition therein, he wondered. He declared that the journalists have the right to go through any political literature including that of the Maoists as that forms part of their professional needs to keep themselves abreast of political activities and hence, possession even of Maoist literature can never be construed as sedition. He moved the following Resolutions to which Rabi Das seconded and the entire House unanimously supported.
1. Media Unity for Freedom Press Convention resolves to fight any attempt by the powers that be to muzzle or gag the Press. It also resolves to pledge support and all possible help to any one who faces attacks or threats in any form from any source while pursuing or performing his professional duties as a news person.
2. MUFP demands that the State Government pass necessary orders to ensure that prior to slapping charges such as sedition, waging war against the State and criminal conspiracy against any working journalist – whether accredited, self-employed or freelance- the concerned police officials seek the recorded approval of the State Home Department, preferably of its Secretary.
3. MUFP calls upon the Chief Minister to honour his promise to a delegation of scribes by withdrawing all charges leveled by the Mohana police against Sri Laxman Choudhury. A quick and favourable response by the Chief Minister in this matter will pave the path for a healthier interface between the media and the administration.
4. MUFP also calls upon the state government to take stringent action against the people who were behind the murderous attack on fellow journalist and green activist Sri Jagannath Bastia as well as the government employees who assaulted two journalists working for the Oriya daily, Arombh. The State should compensate them for all medical expenses incurred by them towards treatment.
5. MUFP expresses its sincere gratitude to leading High Court lawyer and former President of the All India Bar Council Sri Jagannath Patnaik who went out of his way to fight for the release of Sri Laxman Choudhury without expecting or taking a single rupee towards his professional fee. We also wish to thank all lawyers, rights activists, individuals and organizations, especially the Paris-based international body of journalists, the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) who stood solidly behind our effort to get Sri Choudhury out of jail.
6. MUFP demands the setting up of a State Media Centre on the vacant space inside the Jaydev Bhawan premises with minimum facilities such as a media room that offers Broadband and P&T services on usual payment, an auditorium with a 200-seat capacity to be used for press briefings and conferences, a reading room, a library and a canteen. The state government should respond to this at the earliest.
7. MUFP resolves to launch under its own title i.e. Media Unity for Freedom of Press, a website that would serve as a common platform for journalists and those who defend and value press freedom. The website would also act as the watchdog of the free press and facilitate debate on issues, incidents and questions that have a bearing on freedom of press in particular and those affecting democratic norms and practices in general.
8. MUFP resolves to appeal to editors and management of all newspapers and channels both at the State and National level to ensure that media personnel working for them in rural, tribal and areas under ultra-political activities in the most difficult and challenging conditions are given proper recognition and identity cards. That could help them immensely vis-à-vis questions on their status raised randomly by the authorities especially the police.
Years after the event, on September 12, 2013, the speech of Sri Subhas Chandra Pattanayak on foundation of MUFP, as recorded by Laxmi Prasad Pattanayak, was retrieved from old records. As it is of referral value in the life of MUFP, we are sharing the video above.