Minutes of the Executive Committee meeting held on 03 September, 2018 at India International Centre, Delhi

1. The new executive committee members introduced themselves to others before the proceedings began.

2. The proceedings started with the welcome address by the Guild’s General Secretary Mr. Ashok Bhattacharya. A two-minute silence was observed as a mark of respect for the departed members- TVR Shenoy, Surinder Nihal Singh, Kuldip Nayar and Shujaat Bukhari. Mr. Bhattacharya spoke about the functions of Guild in the last 5 months since the new office bearers took over. He introduced the Guild’s new, functioning website and social media handles to the executive members. He requested all the executive members to track the same and invited suggestions to make them better. He then listed a dozen statements that were released by the present team of office-bearers.

3. Treasurer, Ms. Sheela Bhatt gave the current financials and bank balances of the Guild. As on March 31, 2018, the Guild had Rs 27.72 lakh in fixed deposits and Rs 1.76 lakh in its current account. She also informed that the income tax returns (ITR) has been filed before the due date for this assessment year.

4. President of the Guild, Mr. Shekhar Gupta addressed the executive members. He spoke about the diversity of the new committee which now has more women and young editors. He also spoke about the Guild’s need to have a home and a stronger identity. He also urged every executive member to get at least 10 new members for the Guild. He said the current strength of the Guild which stands at 180 is too small. He sought suggestions to fund the Guild and explained its proposal to Independent Public-Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF). He also introduced some ideas to build EGI’s profile with initiatives like scholarships, media awards, and lectures.

5. A three-member accreditation committee to screen the new membership applications was formed. TN Ninan agreed to head it, with Mukund Padmanabhan, and Sonia Singh as members. This committee will be leading the process with inputs from other EC members.

6. Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai welcomed the idea of a scholarship fund for journalism students. But he also suggested that Guild should not get into awards as it will deviate the Guild from its primary purpose. He said there already are enough awards for journalists.

7. Mr. Ninan endorsed Rajdeep’s views on awards initiative. He said the Guild should build an office and infrastructure first. He also suggested not to go with an annual fee waiver for some deserving membership candidates with financial constraints because of the complications that would arise out of it.

8. Mr. Alok Mehta said that the Guild should go beyond Delhi. He said in the past the Guild has had key members, including presidents from outside Delhi. He also remembered previous EC’s initiative of updating the EGI code of ethics for journalists. He also asked EC members to focus on how to react quickly during the crisis and be very careful uphold the Guild’s reputation while accepting memberships for the Guild. We should be mindful of how membership of such a respected organisation could be misused.

9. Mr. Hari Jai Singh expressed his happiness to see someone finally (Kavita Devi) in the committee from rural journalism. He spoke about how the Guild needs to be better informed about its own fraternity in local media. He suggested that we bring prominent local media people to talk amongst us to understand their regional journalistic challenges.

10. Mr. Prakash Dube remembered some previous initiatives of the Guild like organising workshops in conflict areas and helping reporters in contempt cases. He also expressed concern over things that indirectly affect media and proposed an idea for supporting some concrete academic research on such issues.

11. Mr. Bhattacharya sought the committee’s ratification for the decision of the earlier AGM that if there is a change in the profession by any Guild member, his/her membership will remain dormant for that particular period until they are back to journalism. Everyone agreed with this. Mr. Ninan suggested that the legalities of this should also be checked out.

12. Mr. Alok Mehta, Mr. Sardesai, and Mr. HK Dua spoke about the Guild’s fight against criminal defamation cases on journalists. Mr. Dua said that possibly the Guild might start this fight afresh now.

13. Mr. Dua also suggested getting more people from the North East region and to educate/collaborate with North East reporters. Mr. Dube brought the fee waiver proposal for deserving North East members and others. Mr. Shekhar Gupta suggested if this could be routed through the accreditation committee.

14. Mr. Vijay Naik suggested for regular communication between the Guild office and its members. He also brought the recent developments at a Hindi news channel and the Guild’s statements without mentioning concerned individuals and firms. He also suggested that Guild should invite the two editors of a news channel to talk to the Guild members. He also spoke about the disturbing news about how WhatsApp groups of journalists are now asked to be registered in some districts. He then added that the Guild needs to hold a seminar pertaining to media freedoms inviting people from conflict zones.

15. Mr. Raghav Bahl reiterated things about criminal defamation and how even media organisations are harassed by such cases. He also suggested that the Guild should move beyond issuing statements and take a sustained effort to ensure that the issue does not die down. He said there could be different methodologies for doing same which could be discussed but it is essential to have a follow-up action on any issue after issuing statements. He also extended his support to raise the profile of the Guild. He said that though there are many journalism awards, an Indian Pulitzer prize equivalent award coming from EGI would be great. Mr. Shekhar Gupta reassured Mr. Ninan that a proper office and infrastructure for the Guild before that.

16. Ms. Sonia Singh spoke about the so-called “Urban Naxal” list which compiled at the instigation of a film director. It featured many journalists. She spoke about how these journalists are in danger and could be physically attacked anytime. She also suggested that the Guild should not stop with statements. She suggested that to make an impact, a small subgroup has to meet concerned ministers for follow-up. She also said that the Guild should react real-time. Ms. Singh also raised the recent I&B circular ordering media to not use the word ‘Dalit’ in their broadcasts. She also found the scholarship for journalism students to be a great idea. She suggested that the Guild could do this in partnership with universities and other institutions which she said could be extended for Guild lectures as well.

17. Shekhar Gupta asked if the Guild should file a statement on the so-called “Urban Naxal” list on social media. Mr. Bahl said that in fact, the Guild should also ask for prosecution of those who instigated it.

18. Mr. Shashi Shekhar reiterated how journalism and journalists function in conflict areas. He gave specific examples from his own experience, particularly the killing of one of his reporters in Bihar, where his paper has the largest readership. He also said that while strongly focusing on press freedom issues, the Guild should be careful not to get into employer-employee disputes.

19. Mr. Dilip Mandal spoke about legal issues faced by journalists. He suggested that the Guild should help the community to develop basic legal knowledge. He also said that it would be great if the Guild could have a legal team who can work pro bono for the journalist fraternity. He said the Guild’s priority should be to protect editorial freedoms, not editors’ jobs.

20. Mr. Mukund Padmanabhan made comparisons with the legal systems in Britain as he explained defamation cases. He said if criminal defamation goes, civil defamation could be made stronger. But we have to be careful it doesn’t become excessively strong, as the case in Britain. He also brought focus on blasphemy law and other laws like sec 153A, sec 295A and suggested that the media laws be revisited. These laws, he said, are misused to much more damaging effect than criminal defamation.

21. Mr. S Prasannarajan in his intervention suggested a more proactive role for the EGI. He said the Guild needed a higher profile and it had to take its relevance and influence beyond the occasional press statements. He said the Guild should be in a permanent conversation with the political and the thinking classes through conferences and lectures on media as an agent of change and freedom. “We need more visibility and a more distinctive voice”, he said.

22. Ms. Kavita Devi expressed her excitement to represent the rural digital media on this prestigious national forum. She also suggested that the committee could speak more often in Hindi language. Officer bearers assured her that in future, key statements and elements in the discussion will be immediately translated in Hindi by one of them.

23. Ms. Patricia Mukhim expressed her delight to be a part of the committee. She said that press freedom in the North East region is buffeted by the culture of impunity from both state and non-state actors. There is a need for solidarity from the media fraternity in other parts of the country, she said.

24. Mr. Jayant Mammen Mathew raised the issue of abusive calls that journalists faced at work and home. He raised his concern over such trends and how journalists were intimidated by such acts. He also expressed his dismay that no one was standing up for these issues and he was worried that somehow their personal phone numbers were accessed by the trolls/abusers.

25. Shekhar Gupta summed up the points briefly that was discussed in the meeting and answered the points that were raised by the members.

26. Former General Secretary Mr. Dube handed over the remaining files in his possession relating to the EGI to the new team of office bearers.