The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has urged the Indian government to intervene in the proposal to corporatise a news service which informs millions throughout India.
In a letter sent on December 20 to the Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the IFJ stated its deep concern for the future of media diversity in India, after the proposal to sell a majority (60 per cent) stake of the United News of India (UNI) to a single media owner, Zee Telefilms.
“The IFJ is strongly opposed to this proposal, which has the potential to crumble the foundations of media diversity which have long existed in India,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
“It is unthinkable that a major corporate player might take over a longstanding independent provider of news, a situation which would undoubtedly reduce the plurality of voices in the Indian mediascape as well as the media’s capacity to scrutinise publicly accountable figures,” Warren said.
While the matter is still before the courts, the Company Law Board on December 5 declared that the proposal is not bona fide and prima facie not valid, a move welcomed by the IFJ.
The IFJ, supported by IFJ affiliates including the National Union of Journalists (India) and the All India Newspaper Employees Federation, calls on the Indian government to intervene to introduce early legislation that would extinguish the proposal and prevent any future corporate take over attempts.
Three members of Parliament, Ali Anwar, Khabiruddin Ahmed, and Rudra Narayan Pani, have added their voices to the protest, while on November 23, Moinul Hassan raised the matter in the Upper House, questioning the government on its stance.
“A diversity of media ownership, particularly of agencies, is absolutely essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy within any nation,” the IFJ president said.
“The UNI situation is symbolic of a global trend towards media monopolisation, and one which desperately needs our voices and our campaigning in this crucial fight,” he said.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 115 countries
Dear Prime Minister,
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries, wishes to draw your attention to the urgent matter of threats to media diversity and freedom of speech in India.
The proposal to sell a majority stake in the United News of India (UNI) greatly concerns the IFJ due to its central bearing on the issues of pluralism in reporting, independence of the press, and above all, Indian democracy.
The IFJ noted that UNI, set up as a channel for the free flow of news and impartial reporting throughout India, has existed in its important role for over 40 years. This role, however, now seems to be placed at great risk due to the proposal to sell some 60% of its shares to a private media group.
Indeed, the role of UNI cannot be stressed enough in its capacity as a circuit breaker for a media monopoly in India. At stake is not just a portion of shares but the crucial guarantee of freedom to report on diverse issues, scrutinise publicly accountable institutions, and thus inform and contribute to a wealth of knowledge accessible to the Indian people.
In a world of increasing media monopolisation, coupled by a global backlash towards it, it is absolutely essential that an agency as important as UNI remains independent of corporate control.
The Company Law Board in its decision of December 5 by declaring that the proposed sale is not bona fide and prima facie not valid, has ordered that the status quo be maintained. This is indeed a positive move.
The IFJ, supported by IFJ affiliates including the National Union of Journalists (India) and the All India Newspaper Employees Federation, thus calls on the Indian government to intervene at this crucial moment in the urgent matter of UNI through the introduction of early legislation. It calls on the government to restore the status quo that has long been established within the Indian media. In doing so, the Indian government would make a crucial assurance towards the health of democracy in India and to its functioning as a balanced, informed society within the international arena.
International Federation of Journalists