The Telangana government led by Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao was yesterday visited by a delegation of journalists led by the Telangana State Press Academy Chairman Allam Narayana, who thanked him for allocating 30 crores in the Telangana Government’s budget for the welfare of journalists.
This scheme was announced by the CM in February 2017 wherein he stated that the government would allocate 10 crores every year for the journalists’ welfare. It is also mentioned in the press release of the government that in the last two budgets too, the government had set aside 10 crore each year for the scheme.
The money is aimed at helping journalists who fall sick or die. Rs 1 lakh has been announced as compensation for death, while family members will be provided Rs 3000 per month for a period of 5 years. The scheme also extends to the children of the journalists studying below the 10th standard would be provided Rs 1000 per month. The scheme also includes a provision for overseas scholarship.
While citizens in distress do need help, a special treatment to journalists by the government does raise questions about the rationale. Such measures should ideally be undertaken by the employers of the journalists, which are usually private corporate houses and not by the government. Journalists do play important role in the society, but so do doctors or teachers or other professionals, many of whom are employees of private organisations. One could argue why no special welfare budget for these professionals?
What the government can do is make it compulsory for the employers to enact such schemes by bearing the expenses out of their own pocket.
Government giving a special status to journalists might lead to a mollycoddled relationship between the two institutions, thereby posing a risk to the objectivity and freedom of the profession. Further, this opens a pandora’s box as to who qualifies and who not for such schemes, because journalism is not a profession where you need to have certain degrees from certain institutes. There will be charges of bias in choosing of beneficiaries of such schemes.
We had recently reported how some schemes for journalists have been used by certain governments (Mulayam singh Yadav in 1995) in order to dole out favor to the journalists who were inclined their party and disposition.
However, as it turns out, there are other instances of similar schemes which have been undertaken by other governments. The central Information and Broadcasting Ministry under the then UPA government had brought in modified guidelines [pdf] in 2013 for a similar journalist welfare scheme which was to come into force from 1st Feb 2013. The benefits too are similar, though the amount is higher; 5 lakh for deceased, permanently disabled journalists and 3 lakh for those suffering from major aliments among others. Such welfare grants are fairly common with accredited journalists being the most common beneficiaries. Such schemes have been implemented by the Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal, Chhattisgarh governments.
This is something the journalistic fraternity should ponder over, especially at a time when the mainstream media is losing its credibility. While it might have been a common practice till now, is it something worth continuing with?