Kathmandu, Dec 28 - Mass media workers and journalists on Sunday stressed on the need for paying attention to the rights of the media workers while championing for press freedom.
"The workers have rights to raise their demands whether it is a media house or any other business house," said Suresh Acharya, former president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and chairman of committee for the determination of minimum remuneration of working journalists.
Acharya was speaking at an interaction on ‘Workers’ rights and press freedom’ organised by Revolutionary Journalist Association.
"Exploitation of the media workers should not be ignored in the cover of press freedom," he said, "Until the government strictly implements the Working Journalists’ Act, exploitation of the workers and violent incidents at the media houses seem to go unabated."
Acharya said that the newly formed alliance for Press Freedom was nothing but a means of the media house owners to suppress the voices of the workers in the cover of free press.
He also accused the FNJ for working in the sole interest of the media owners.
"There can’t be a compromise on press freedom and by the same token there can never be compromise on workers’ rights," he said.
Referring to Himal Media incident, he urged the media workers not to use any violent means while voicing for their rights.
Deepak Sangraula, chairman of All Nepal Printing Press and Publications’ Workers Organisation (Himal Media chapter), said that the media had not only neglected their grievances but also ignored the directives of the Department of Information and the Department of Labour.
"One and a half years back we formed an independent workers’ union at the Himal Media and got it registered. We expected that the civil society leaders like Kund and Kanak Mani Dixit would encourage us. But they instead fired 18 of us saying the company was in loss. I have worked in the Himal Media for ten years but now I am fired for putting up demands."
Sangraula said that they had registered the union to fight against the management legally when they heard that it was planning to dislodge some of the workers in the pretexts of loss. "No sooner they forced the employees to take voluntary retirement, they announced vacancy for the same posts."
"We had seventeen round of talks with the management of the Himal Media, on that particular day, our talks team was called at the office and when the talks failed and tussle ensued, the unfortunate incident of glass-breaking occurred. We never attacked any person, le alone the journalists, nor had we any intention to vandalise the office."
Shreedhar Gautam, director general at the Department of Information, said that the Himal Media was directed to give continuity to the fired employees as per the Article 22 (clause 3) of the Working Journalists’ Act.
"Himal Media has been misinforming about the basis of our directives. We found that it had dislodged the employees and advertised the vacancy for the same positions," he added.
Shalikram Jammarkattel, chairman of Federation of All Nepal Trade Union, said that his organisation was focused on ensuring the rights of the workers but not against press freedom.
"Media houses are also business houses and we want that the workers’ rights are ensured there as well," he said. "Everyone should be aware of the fact that only 6 per cent of workers are enjoying rights as per the Labour Act in Nepal."
Referring to the sit-in by the workers of the Kantipur Publications at its Biratnagar branch, he said that they were struggling because the management had failed to implement the agreement reached with them earlier.
"Now it is our turn to go to the street if the Himal Media problem and other problems related with the workers are not solved," he warned.
Chairman of Press Council, Narayan Sharma, blamed the media houses for giving a wrong message to the world about press freedom in the country by distorting the conflict between the workers and the owners of the media houses.
Om Sharma, Prime Minister’s press advisor, pointed at the need to find causes of tussle in the media houses and seek solution through dialogues.
Govinda Acharya, FNJ vice president, said that attacks on media houses had increased in the recent days. "Ankush daily has been attacked by the UML affiliated Youth Force, it has also attacked FM radios in many other places."