Health Insurance to scribes will never benefit the majority if “all journalists” are not included

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

BHUBANESWAR based journalists are happy that out of their demands, the one for health insurance is achieved. But a small section of journalists of Orissa may benefit from this insurance package advanced under orders of the Chief Minister this afternoon. The package comprises one lakh INR health insurance, which a qualifying journalist will be entitled to that would cover five members of his / her family per year.

The package is restricted to “working journalists” when majority of Orissa’s scribes are “self-employed journalists” and if the definition of “working journalists” under the Working Journalists (Condition of Services and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and/or Working Journalists (Fixation of Wages) Act is adhered to by the department, most of Orissa’s journalists shall not qualify for the insurance.

It is incumbent upon the State Government to ensure that journalists get the “working journalist” status and get their due wages under the law. The first Press Commission had stipulated that no journalist will either be paid or be allowed to receive less than the amount of wages prescribed by the Wage Board. Inspectors under the Working Journalists Acts in the department of labor are required to conduct regular inspections and take necessary actions to ensure this, the laws say. But this has never happened in Orissa. No newspaper or media organization has ever earned commendation of the labor laws implementation authorities for having properly implemented the Wage Board awards. But no action has ever been taken against erring managements for non-implementation of the Wage Board Awards. When unfair labor practices continue to harass the journalists in every news media organization, no action has ever been taken against the owners of those media houses, as the media power they enjoy by exploiting the journalists is too massive for the labor officers to book them.

All the rural correspondents of all the media organizations of Orissa are kept out of the ambit of the Acts, as the authorities are afraid of media power the media owners possess. As a result of this, even though, de facto, each of the rural reporters of every media house is entitled to be treated as a working journalist, he/she is de jure a non-journalist. These rural media-persons constitute the majority and are he most oppressed and disadvantaged. They really need the health insurance. But they will not benefit from the assured health insurance if the definition of Working Journalists is not amended to include self-employed journalists in its fold.

Since Sangma’s days as the union labor minister, I have been demanding as Secretary of Forum of Freelance Journalist that, be defined that working journalist would mean “employed and self-employed journalists”. But, to no effect.

The assured health insurance package that Orissa Chief Minister has offered, probably to woo the media support in sharply approaching elections to the Assembly as well as the Lok Sabha, will not be available to rural journalists and the self-employed ones, if the words “working journalists” are not replaced with the words “all the journalists” in the instrument the Chief Minister has approved.

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