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Workshop Report on Role of Press Union in Highlighting Workers Issues

Organised by Nepal Press Union (NPU)

23 February 2010


Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Cooperation with Press Union organised one day workshop on the role of trade union in highlighting workers issues in Kathmandu on 23rd February, 2010. There were around 50 participants, mostly journalists from mainstream and vernacular media representing radio, Television and newspapers. The chief guest of this programme was Mr Arjun Narsingh KC - Spokesperson of Nepali Congress Party. The inaugural session was chaired by Samir Jung Shah - President of Press Union. Dev Raj Dahal, Head FES Nepal Office, Arjun Narisingh KC, Tara Nath Dahal (from Freedom Forum) and Bindu Kant Ghimire - General Secretary of Nepal Press Union spoke in the inaugural session.

Speaking in the inaugural session Chief Guest KC said that press union played a crucial role during the people's movement of 2006 and appealed that it should now work towards the formation of inclusive politics that upholds norms of social justice. He also commented on the current political situation and said that Maoists have come as a major hurdle for the current political impasse in the country. The fact is that they wanted to retain their combatants even after the Constitutional process is completed and this intention of theirs is prolonging political process in the country. He also shed light on the role of trade union especially that of Nepal Trade Union Congress in spearheading democratisation process in the country - the journey that started from Biratnagar Jute Mills some sixty plus years ago. He further said that Nepali Congress is committed for the development of Trade Union movement in the country.

Dev Raj Dahal - Head of FES Nepal in his inaugural speech has said that media should assist in setting agenda of workers in the country. Media as a cultural industry represents critical mass in a society which can move forward the issues of social justice that has come forcefully in the country. He also said that we need to strike a balance between rights and responsibilities. He further said that the notion of social justice should encompass issues related to gender justice, intergenerational justice and overall justice.

Tara Nath Dahal from Freedom Forum and the former present of Press Union strongly objected the current development trend that has been witnessed in the media sector. He categorised Nepalese press into three different columns who defend interests of the different groups. The traditionally oriented media, politically oriented media and commercially oriented media. And this sort of media orientation has posed serious threat for the development of "autonomous" press in the country said Dahal. He further said that the free media in the country is free only for few who enjoy it as their prerogative rights. By and large, media has not promoted pluralistic culture in the country. There are more than 50000 persons directly employed in this industry. In addition to this, there are self-employed in media, there are editor publishers and one man media (the online) shows and we need to organise them for the betterment of society. He vociferously said that Press Union should highlight the issues of workers as we represent the same class and this has been not taken up so seriously for the last few years. He said that we need to have a scientific research in the media industry as to what extent it contributes to the development of the society as well as maintain state-society relations intact primarily because of the have investment seen in this sector .

Samir Jung Shah - President of the Press Union said that state capacity must be strengthened to ensure rights of the people. He further thanked all the participants and inaugural session comes to an end.

In the working session, there were two papers one by Chandra D Bhatta from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung on the Role of Media in highlighting workers issues and another by Mr Achyut Pandey - Constituent Assembly Members and General Secretary of Nepal Trade Union Congress, who spoke about the Issues of Trade Union in Nepal, while Babita Basnet from Sancharika Samuha commented on both the papers.

Chandra Dev Bhatta, while presenting his paper said that although media industry in Nepal has seen quantum growth over the last two decades but it has failed to raise issues of working people genuinely. He further argued that unless and until the issues of working people (such as health, education, safety, social security, employment guarantee) are not highlighted there is no way that we can have egalitarian society. This is primarily important for Nepal as there are nearly 90 percent working people, while there are only 10 percent who provide work (employer). So this gap has to be bridged. He pointed out that journalist in Nepal enjoy maximum privileges which needs to be used for the benefit of the country. But the problem that we have got in this country is that the press is vertically divided on left vs. right ideology as a result it has failed to address the issues of workers issues honestly [see paper for detail discussion]. It appears that they not understood the issues of workers and some sort of trainings to them is necessary. This is partly because trade union and media rarely communicate with each other.

Likewise Achyut Pandey spoke about the current situation of trade unions in the country and their struggle to incorporate rights of the working people in the upcoming constitution. He said that they are jointly working to ensure workers rights in the constitution through Joint Trade Union Coordination Committee.

Babita Basnet while making remarks on both the speakers has said that the trade union the country are highly politicised, parti-oriineted and media is action oriented as a result the genuine issues of workers are always sidelined. Workers have been merely used and abused by the trade union leaders and leaders of the political parties. She said that economic activities in the country are shrinking and there has been too much focus on politics over the years as a result state has failed to create new jobs. Media industry rests on the industrialisation of the country as well but the industrialisation process has taken a back-seat. This has invited unnecessary cut-throat competition to grab the advertisement in the media industry. There has been no presentation of Trade Union in policy making front. She has also pointed out leadership problem in the trade union is another issue that needs to be sorted out in the days to come. As same people have been leading the TUs for a long time, that is, the process of inter-generational justice has been blocked in there is no internal democracy in the TUs like the political parties. She also cautioned that Trade Union movement is not only about opposing "employers" but also about creating an environment of the fresh investment in the country.

From the floor Junar Babu Basnet from Gorkhapatra Sansthan has commented that Nepali TU movement is not investment friendly and came up with proposal that like the banks media house should also publicise their account book because media is public not private. Another journalist Sita Adhikari and Radha Chalise have said that if journalist raises their problems within the media houses to the higher management for their solution - rather than addressing their problems the management relieves journalist from the service. That is, media personnel themselves (particularly Press Union) have failed to address the genuine issues of workers.

Nav Raj Lamsal from Radio Nepal has said that democratisation of TU is must than only we can have industrial relations at the good level. Khila Karki blamed that Nepal Trade Union Congress has failed to address the issues of Press Union and journalist associated with it. In this light there is no need to have working relationship with NTUC-I. Shiromani Dhungana has also said that Trade Union has not taken the issues of Press Union and that of working journalist seriously. The hire and fire policy is at rampant in media house and it has not been opposed by anyone.

One commentator said that when Kantipur publications split into two groups they divided, each took 70-80 crores but what did journalist get who really worked hard and uplift Kantipur Publications to that height. Prakash Chandra Pariyar from Kantipur Television has said that there 27 CA members representing business community in the CA whereas there are only seven representatives are representing the whole workforce. This is completely unjustifiable and policy they formulate cannot work for the people. All big business houses such as Khetan, Golchha, Chaudharym Kedia and Jyoti group who combinedly control more than 70 percent of economy in the country have representatives in the CA. He pointed out the need of having separate Nepal Media workers union which can address the problem of journalist

Conclusion

The event oriented and mission journalist is not going to address the issues of society. Societal tensions can only be minimised when very citizen gets equal chance to participate in the polity and that polity directly contributes towards social justice and uplifts individual's life. Each and every element of society has equal role to play to achieve the goal of social justice and media can play tremendous role to this end given the fact that modern society is media mediated society. Understandably, there are problems within the media as well as in the economic sector but these problems are directly linked with the health f the state but the "unions'" can definitely help to straighten these problems. The challenge that lies ahead of us is to bridge the gap between capital and labour so that we can have an egalitarian society.

 
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