An Intervention Application has been filed in a duo moto case before the Supreme Court seeking parity in the treatment of accredited journalists and non-accredited journalists for compensation and other benefits for their family members granted by the Central and state governments amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This application filed by the Director of the Institute of Perception Studies Dr. Kota Neelima through Advocate Lubna Naaz, states that the Central government has still not declared journalists as frontline workers, while a couple of state government have designated them as frontline workers for vaccine prioritization alone.
The gist of the intervention application
The application cited figures of journalists who passed away in the line of duty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There have been 253 deaths of journalists because of Covid-19 which have been verified and 93 death which is unverified between 1st April 2020 to 19th May 2021. The said list is not exhaustive. On average, 4 deaths of journalists have occurred between 1st April 2020 to 19th May 2021. The data suggests that 34% of the death have taken place in the metro cities whereas 66% of the deaths have taken place in the smaller cities. Moreover, the data also reveals that 54% of the deaths of the media persons have occurred in print media and the greatest number of deaths have taken place in the age group of 41-50 years,” it stated.
The Centre had launched a special drive under the Journalist Welfare Scheme (JWS) to help the families of media journalists who died because of COVID-19. As per the guidelines under the scheme, accreditation details of the journalist must be given. These include the card number, validity, and media organization (or freelance) on behalf of which the accreditation has been provided.
Point 3(ii) (a) and (b) of the guidelines also expresses that “media personnel” excludes those persons who are employed at a managerial level or in a supervisory capacity.
It was additionally noticed that there are journalists who are working with a similar organization, one being accredited, and another being non-accredited at a similar post or same designation, and are performing similar duties.
The IA stated,
" Thus, the requirement of accreditation, which is a prerequisite to get benefits under the scheme, has proved to be the largest hindrance for the journalists to avail the same."
Also, according to Rule 6.1 of the rules, the eligibility conditions for reporters/camera people to benefit from the plan are "minimum 15 years professional experience as a full-time working journalist," among others.
The applicant presented that this leaves out the huge number of a journalist who will be not be given any advantages after dying in the line of obligation because of COVID-19.
The application stated that,
"The mere non-accreditation which is only a recognition given by the Government for purposes of access to sources of information, he/she will not be covered under the scheme. Thus, it has no parity and is violative of Article-14 of the Constitution of India,".
At last, the IA urged the Court to issue directions about the ex-gratia amount to be given to the family members of journalists who have died because of covid 19 while performing their duties.
It further prayed for the following:
- Recognize all the journalists and media people as 'frontline workers" so they can take the advantages being extended to all such workers; and/or
- Formulate a complete guideline for the clinical facilities and related advantages for the Covid-19 pandemic to be extended to the journalists/media people (accredited and non-accredited) to be executed by all the States and the Union Territories uniformly;
- Direct the government to provide free treatment to the journalist in private as well as government clinics in this unprecedented time of pandemic and the reimbursement of their bills; and/or
- Direct the government to give compensatory help to the immediate families of journalist in the form ex- gratia or employment assistance; and/or
- Fix the minimum amount to be given as remuneration to maintain equality among states; and/or direct the government to give journalists with a walk- in-registration and immunization making it non-mandatory for them to enlist on CoWIN; and/or
- Direct the government to not consider the difference between the accredited and non-accredited journalists, employed and free-lance, rural and urban, technicians and help be removed for the purpose of all the schemes being given so that it is more inclusive and/or
- Direct the government to incorporate editorial staff, photographers, videographers, cameramen, technicians, technical staff, and all associates in the meaning of 'journalist and media people'.