By RP Nailwal
The questions regarding the status of Fourth Estate in a democratic dispensation often come to the fore during discussions on the missing link of parliamentary democracy. The relevance of the Fourth Estate in the context of clear-cut division of powers among the so called four pillars of our democratic system, i.e., executive, legislature, judiciary and the media, warrants a threadbare debate today. This debate emanates from the fact that, while the first three pillars of our democratic system have been given privileges, perks, protection with water tight social security, the Fourth Estate is left high and dry.
In our democratic system, while the ministers, bureaucrats and members of the judiciary receive more than adequate compensation, perks and privileges as compensation for their service, members of the media do not have any such social security, even though they work devotedly 24×7 under heavy pressure. Is it not worth noticing how their responsibility involves not just informing the people but also educating and entertaining them?
Interestingly, for all their hard work, a majority of media persons often get paltry compensation from their organisations, i.e., newspapers or electronic channels. By the way, there are just a handful of journalists associated with frontline electronic channels or top national newspapers who are supposed to be getting somewhat adequate compensation.
By and large, most journalists work very hard, week after week, remaining awake well past midnight in a newspaper or a channel studio just to bring the latest news and views to the eager readership-viewership. The pressure is much more for the scribes working in a daily. A reporter, or a sub-editor or a chief sub editor and news editor of a daily newspaper have to race against time to meet the deadlines and produce a flawless newspaper.
Despite their silent service to society in terms of informing and educating the masses, there is just no social security for journalists. In fact, it is the owner of a newspaper or a channel who eventually decides what a scribe should get and how much, and even the time to say “Good Bye”, if need be. By and large, in a majority of media houses, there are hardly any criteria for measuring the ability or brilliance of a scribe for promotion and there is no guarantee of job security irrespective of the timeframe of the service rendered. This is what I have felt over the decades as journalist, myself. However, one thing needs to be clarified here that media persons cannot function at all without a certain degree of intellectual ability. A journalist has to always work under the public gaze and there is no escape, unlike in many other jobs, with inherent scope to hide the mistakes.
It is true that some states in our country pondered over this difficulty faced by the scribes especially after their retirement. These states realised that despite their substantial contribution in terms of educating, enlightening and informing the public constantly, members of the Fourth Estate must be given some attention. Hence, some states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have in recent times launched a paltry pension scheme for retired journalists. Some other states like Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand have also followed suit but limited this pension between five to eight thousand rupees. The amount given to them per month speaks for itself. It compromises the dignity and respect of the noble profession.
Compare this with the perks and benefits to the retired bureaucrats or government servants, members of the judiciary and legislature. A MLA in the state of Uttarakhand or elsewhere not only receives a handsome salary along with very heavy perks and an annual vidhayat nidhi to the tune of Rs 3.75 crore. The same is the case with MPs.
Think of it, how many days do state assemblies or Parliament function in a year in order to establish pressure on the working of an MLA or MP? How many members of the Vidhan Sabha and Parliament are really enlightened and properly educated to deserve a very handsome compensation? How much work bureaucrats do really with corresponding privileges, salaries and perks? Members of the judiciary also have powers, perks and privileges with adequate holidays. Compare all this with the work of journalists who have to slog 24×7 without many leaves or perks.
I must point out here that some insincere, not properly educated people with no relevant degrees, have also intruded into the journalism, tarnishing the image of the noble profession and of those who seek to pursue its highest standards. They do whatever suits them to meet their ends in the garb of a journalist. Some bring out a broadsheet to practice, what is often termed as yellow journalism. It is because of such people that the entire journalistic fraternity gets a bad name. Is it not the duty of the professional gate-keepers as well as government departments concerned to isolate such people with penal action? It is also a fact that politicians and authorities tend to take advantage of some journalists who are always ready to oblige them and compromise their self-respect and dignity.
Is it not high time that society and government ponder over the vulnerable status of the members of the Fourth Estate and accord them due recognition for their service to the people? Why not announce a concrete plan for their social security under a legal framework?