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03rd-Jul-2014

Journalists are not govt employees: Trust fund be run by journalists

By Editorial Desk

Parliament passed the Bangladesh Journalists' Welfare Trust Bill 2014 on July 1 to ensure welfare of the insolvent, wounded and sick journalists and dependants of the deceased ones.
Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu piloted the bill before the Jatiya Sangsad for its passage.
A 13-member board of trustee with the information minister as its chairman and information secretary as its vice-chairman will be formed under the law. The government will appoint its managing director who will also act as the member secretary of the board.
Other members of the board are principal information officer, a director general level officer to be nominated by the Prime Minister's Office, a finance division officer with the rank and status of not below a joint secretary, director general of Bangladesh Press Institute, joint secretary (press) of the information ministry, two representatives from Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists and three other journalists to be nominated by the government.
The trustee board would provide financial support to the insolvent, poor, sick and wounded journalists, arrange treatment of journalists and implement projects for their welfare. It would also give stipends to those journalists having contributions in journalism, and award stipends to the meritorious children of journalists.
The government will create a permanent fund for the trust and will also mobilise funds from the local authorities like city corporations, private organisations, individuals and foreign donors.A permanent fund and a current fund will be created from the trust fund. The government will formulate rules for the trust while the trust could formulate its regulations taking government's approval.
Nowhere in any democracy journalists accepted such government trust fund doled out under the control of Information Ministry. We are being reminded of BAKSAL government days when only government owned newspapers had the right to exist. The journalists were misled and they were in the forefront among the supporters of the one-party rule, where not only the press but the judiciary was also made completely subservient. Many journalists had to take government jobs as railway ticket checkers.
Now wages of the journalists are decided by the Government established Wage Board under the Information Ministry. So the journalists have to hang around the Ministry of Information for favour of fixing wages as if they do not know what incomes any newspaper has.
The government advertisements are centrally controlled and their rates are also fixed by the government. The owners of newspapers are completely helpless in managing their financial obligations according to income.
No newspaper even the most solvent few are able to fully implement the Wage Board Award. It is internationally accepted that the financial constraints created by the government are anti-press freedom acts.
The consequence of unreasonable financial constraints is that it has become easy for black moneyed persons to get permission for bringing out newspapers. They have enough black money to suffer losses and show that they can become editors or publishers of newspapers. The government thus choose who to be given permission to be publishers of newspapers. Thus the quality of journalism suffers most. This should be considered as a perverse idea for any government that has respect for free press and needs free press for good governance.
Not only that, the government also encourages party activists among journalists so that they become weak about government in the hope of government favours.
For the facts stated above, we have every apprehension that the government's latest move is ill-conceived and ill-motivated for press freedom to survive.
Let the government face the test of its honest intention and we, along with the journalists, shall welcome the move. Let the government allow the Trust Fund to be run by journalists themselves without interference from the Information Ministry.
We do not want to see the humiliation of the journalists becoming government employees and depend on public money doled by the government to act against public interest.
Surely we cannot all be greedy and unprincipled.