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Why journalists are unionised workers

Columns 2022-06-26, 8:16pm


Jehangir Hussain

Jehangir Hussain

Journalists are and were always unionised workers worldwide.

It's totally incorrect to say that this or that political party in Bangladesh made journalists workers.

No political party in Bangladesh can be credited or discredited for making journalists workers. Such allegations are made out of sheer ignorance.

Although white-collar workers, the occupation of journalists shows many characteristics of manual work. That is why they were, are and will continue to be unionised workers worldwide.

As white-collar production workers journalists constitute highly unionised workforce. They always participated and will continue to participate in the production process.

As workers they still get wage, not salary, for their work. They get approximately pro-rata payments for work or time and in large companies the job is broken down by division of labour. Pro-rata, a Latin term, means 'proportionately'. If journalists abstain from work the production process stops immediately.

Journalists are also different from other manual workers in a number of ways. In the 20th century, armed with specialised education and commitment to responsibility to society, journalism flourished as a serious profession.

England's Chartered Institute of Journalists was founded in 1883, possibly, as the first organisation of journalists. The American Newspaper Guild was formed in 1933. In France, the Fédération Nationale de la Presse Française (FNPF), functioned as trade union of journalists as well as a professional organisation.

Paris-based international news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), was founded in 1835 as the world's first news agency. AFP has news bureaus in 151 countries and 201 locations. Later, many more news agencies came into being.

Before the latter part of the 19th century, journalists learned their work as apprentices or copyboys or cub reporters.

The first university course in journalism was offered by  the University of Missouri (Columbia) in 1879-84.

In 1912 Columbia University in New York City offered the first graduate course in journalism with a grant from the New York City editor and publisher Joseph Pulitzer, recognising that the growing complexity of news reporting and newspaper operation required  specialised training.

The early newspapers and journals in the United States were violently partisan in politics and believed that their social responsibility included proselytising their parties' position and denouncing the opposition's opinion.

As the number of readers grew, newspapers grew in size and wealth and became increasingly independent. Newspapers began to mount their own popular and sensational 'crusades' in order to increase their circulation and it culminated in the competition between two New York City dailies -- the World and the Journal, in the 1890s.

The report of the Royal Commission on the Press in the UK and the less extensive Free and Responsible Press (1947) by an unofficial Commission on the Freedom of the Press in the US did much to stimulate self-examination on the part of working journalists.

By the late 20th century, working journalists became idealistic about their role in writing g news and comments for the readers in an impartial manner.

The history of journalism in Bangladesh is more or less known to the readers. They are also aware of the difficulties the truly professional journalists face from time to time. And the difficulties are not any regime-specific.

A burning question is now whether or not the press freedom is shrinking in this country.

Journalism is the production and distribution of reports with editorial comments on the interaction of events, facts, that are the ‘news of the day’ that informs society to at least some degree. The occupation requires gathering information to keep the society informed.  

The proliferation of the Internet and smartphones has brought significant changes to the media landscape since the turn of the 21st century.

But the traditional format includes newspapers, magazines as well as radio and television news channels.

News organizations are facing the challenge of monetising their digital wing and improvise on the context in which they publish in print.

Newspapers have seen print revenues sink at a faster pace than the rate of growth for digital revenues.