GUWAHATI, Jan 28 - Lamenting the huge loss of freedom of press over the last 25 years, which he linked to destruction of journalist unions, former Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, Palagummi Sainath, today said that journalism of dissent is real journalism and the rest is nothing but �corporate puffery.�
Addressing the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Assam Tribune Employees� Union (ATEU) on the concluding day here, Sainath also said that conversion of tenure jobs of journalists into contracts smashed much of the independence of journalists and the security enjoyed by them.
�Earlier, when I had joined the profession in 1980, almost all the media houses had journalists� unions. But, in the next five years, there were dramatic changes in the scenario. Managements set up unions which confronted those formed by the workers,� he said, lauding the Assam Tribune management for being a rare exception and �still legitimizing� the employees� union.
He said that even publication newspapers was stopped to destroy unions, and the only bodies which protected the journalists and employees of the media houses began to disappear.
He said conversion of journalist jobs into contractual appointments undermined the independence of journalists and made the employees casual workers.
�Supposing, a journalist has an 11-month contract; by the eight month he is already worried about the renewal of the contract,� he said, adding that this insecurity is exploited by the management to force a journalist to write what is not true.
Ruing the �hyper-commercialization� of media and the changing role of journalists as PR agents, he said that there are fewer owners of media houses and �less and less space for dissent.�
�All big media groups violated the Supreme Court order on the wage board. The biggest beneficiary of privatization has been the owners of media houses,� he said, adding that an atmosphere of fear and intimidation is unfolding where �all are so scared to speak.�
He also said there is a growing disconnect between the mass media and reality, and urged journalists to exploit the digital spaces where some amount of autonomy still remained.
Stating that the word �union� has been demonised, Sainath lauded unions for protecting the rights of the people over the years.
�It was the bank unions which protected our savings. (Vijay) Mallya had to stop at Rs 9,000 crore (loan) only because the employees� union exposed the scam. It was the teachers� union which exposed the saffronisation of education. It was the Kisan Sabha which brought to light the agrarian crisis,� he said.
He contended that to fight against ownership monopoly there was a need to revive the unions.