Nepali Journalists’ relay hunger strike

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Nepali journalists are in relay hunger strike. A group of journalists representing numerous Nepali media outlets sat on hunger strike between Indreni Complex and Hunger hub at New Baneshwar. They are not reporting and editing. They set up a tent, unraveled posters and placards protesting against the unfair treatment exploitation and tax fraud. Five days of sit-in protest which has drawn hundreds of victimized journalists.
Major parties expressed their solidarity in hunger strike and urged big media houses not to exploit journalists/employees and pay rightful remuneration.

Spoke person of Nepali congress Mr. Bishwa Prakash Sharma urged the government to implement the the Working Journalist Act 1995 and forced the media houses to pay journalists/employees salary.

Spoke person of ruling party (Nepal communist party) Mr. Narayan Kaji Shrestha expressed his own and his party’s solidarity to the hunger strike. He stressed to address just demands of journalists/employees.

For months, journalists across the country have been carrying out various protests against the mass layoff of working journalists with little to no pay. Since March, when the coronavirus pandemic first affected Nepal, media houses have flushed out hundreds of journalists citing a shrink in their advertisement revenues. Many others have been forced to work without pay or stay on unpaid leave or transferred to remote areas with ilecit intention of forceful termination. Most media houses, including the largest in the country, have not paid up to seven months’ salary to many of their staff members.

The violation of the rights of working journalists is not a new scenario in Nepal. Most media houses are yet to ensure minimum wage. Media houses have been using the pandemic as an excuse either to force employees to work without pay or lay off unwanted workers without any repercussions.

According to Dharmendra Kumar Karna, a journalist with Karobar daily—a newspaper run by former head of the Non-Resident Nepalis Association (NRNA) Bhawan Bhatta—around 350 reporters in Kathmandu have so far have been fired from their jobs and as many non-editorial staff have been laid off without payment.

The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), the umbrella organization of working journalists in the country, staged a demonstration in Babarmahal, Kathmandu on July 3, against the arbitrary firing of journalists or forced unpaid leave put into effect by media houses. But this proved to be counterproductive as those affiliated with the federation got targeted instead.

A recent report on the impact of Covid-19 on Nepali media published by Freedom Forum shows that 3,190 active journalists. The media houses that forced staff to resign are the country’s leading houses, including the likes of Kantipur Media Group, Annapurna Media Network, Nepal Republic Media and Karobar Daily, among others.

The government has set a minimum pay scale for journalists at NRs 24,375, but media houses hardly follow by this standard. The issue of salaries and employment security reached a new height after the first lockdown as journalists began to get laid off forcibly or were not paid for months.

Former Prime minister and senior leader of Janata Samajvadi Party Mr. Baburam Bhattrai requested to media houses and their owners to follow the Working Journalists Act 1995 and to provide salaries and facilities accordingly.

Having been chronically exploited, the now laid-off or unpaid journalists are in a dire situation. Almost all mainstream media houses hire journalists on a contract basis, which frees them from the obligation to offer social security to their employees. In the absence of work or pay, many journalists don’t have back-up financial plans.

A 25-member joint struggle committee of journalists and private media employees, coordinated by Mr. Karna, launched a two week-long protest in Kathmandu. Mr. Janmadev Jaisi, the FNJ central committee member coordinated and supported the joint struggle committee has put forward a eight-point list of demands, including the reinstatement of fired employees; assurance of minimum wages as set by the government; payment of unpaid salaries; permanent appointment of those who have worked for more than six months; implementation of working journalists’ act; an end to forced leave and transfer; provide tax clearance certificate and action against media houses that fail to abide by the law.

“Journalists are clearly being exploited and we have raised this issue in international forums. We will continue our fight for the rights of media persons,” said Kiran Acharya, a member of the struggle committee.

Dishonouring the media ethics Nepali main stream media have not covered this news in their media. They are trying bypass their co-workers’ rights. A member of struggle committee, Mr. Govind Devkota said, ‘Sounds Nepali journalists dare not to raise their issues. This shows how they can work? Though they are claiming journalists are voice of voiceless.’

Nepali journalists seldom write news about the media’s irregularities and their exploitation of journalists. Except a few online portals, most of them have covered these burning current issues of Nepali media.

In a recent conversation, general secretary of FNJ Mr. Ramesh Bishta told Asiamala that journalists from nearly all media houses have filed complaints against their media houses about their exploitation.

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