Where free Speech is Constantly Stifled

Raw deal Journalists are treated like slaves by many firms in the state. photo: kuwj.org
Raw deal Journalists are treated like slaves by many firms in the state. Photo: kuwj.org

Kerala is one of the states in the country that has huge number of television channels and newspapers. According to the Information and Public Relations Department website, the state has around 35 television channels, which include 7 news channels. Apart from this, there are 1483 newspapers and many online news portals.
With so many options in print and electronic media, the number of people taking up job in the media industry has also gone up. But the sad reality is community that relentlessly expose the ill deeds of the society has been continuously ‘rewarded’ with pink slips.
The journalistic community continues to grapple with multitudes of problems, ranging from unjust working hours, under payment and harassment from management and these hardly find a space in the public domain.
The most recent incident that brought journalistic worry to the forefront was the dismissal of a senior journalist, C Narayanan of Mathrubhumi, one of the leading Malayalam dailies in the state. The daily, which has a turnover of 500 crore annually and circulation of up to 15 lakh, has been in the news for various infamous episodes against journalists. The management of the daily had taken a punitive stand against their journalists for waging a protest, demanding the implementation of Majithia Wage Board recommendations three years ago. Though, the protest was held under the banner of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (kuwj) the union leaders of Mathrubhumi paid a huge penalty. Interestingly, the protest happened in front of the head quarters of three leading Malayalam dailies — Mathrubhumi, Malayala Manorama and Kerala Kaumudi.
Over forty journalists of the organisation were transferred to different parts of the country. Many senior journalists were shifted to northeastern parts and other regions of the country where the daily has no presence. They protested but to no avail.
The management even took steps to silence those who protested against the decision. Some journalists resigned from their job and the rest, in a helpless scenario, took train to the remotest parts of the country.
K Sreejith, who resigned from Mathrubhumi over the issue, said that the organisation that was once in the forefront of freedom struggle has been continuously tormenting their employees with undemocratic ways. Rampant corporatisation and feudalistic attitude have made the working atmosphere little conducive for the employees. “Journalists are treated as mere ‘slaves’ inside the organisation,” said Sreejith.
Sreejith is the first among the string of journalists from Mathrubhumi to criticise the management. As a protest, he even contested the last Lok Sabha election against Mathrubhumi managing director and Socialist Janata (Democratic) Party leader M P Veerendra Kumar in Palakkad.

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“I fought against him in the election only to make our problems known to the outer world. I am thankful that my presence has played a small role in the defeat of Veerendra Kumar by a huge margin in Palakkad,” said Sreejith.
The dismissal of Narayanan, a senior sub-editor, elicited huge responses in social media platforms. The allegation against Narayanan was that he had misbehaved with the management. He was dismissed from the service after being suspended for six months.
Narayanan, who is living in utter penury after job loss, said that he was victimised by the management for leading the protest demanding the implementation of Majithia Wage Board recommendations. However, Narayanan is firm that he will take the issue to the court.
However, while speaking to a director (M V Shreyams Kumar, who refused to reveal his name) of the Mathrubhumi daily, he rubbished the allegation and said that it was purposefully cooked up to tarnish the image of the organisation. He added that the said employee was dismissed after an internal inquiry proved that he misbehaved with people in the organisation. He also denied the allegation that Mathrubhumi is taking any revenge by transferring the employees. “Decisions like transfers are made for the smooth functioning of the organisation,” said the director.
Former Press Council of India member Dr Sebastian Paul tells Tehelka that the journalists in the state are very insecure and deeply concerned about the future: “Many of the organisations are yet to implement the wage board recommendation and there is no scope for another protest. Those who protested were transferred to the remotest regions of the country?”