Freelance Journalists

IN Press Laws Guide | 17/09/2012

1. Are freelancers treated at par with employed journalists in terms of the privileges they enjoy?

Answer: In so far as employment conditions and issues (such as remuneration, work conditions, credits, etc) are concerned, the law does not require freelancers to be treated at par with employed journalists in terms of any privileges an employee may receive. At present, there is no law in India which deals with freelancers. A freelance relationship is usually regulated by the contract entered into by both the parties.
 
Reasoning: India presently has no specific law relating to the rights of freelancers. On the other hand, there is the Working Journalists & other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955 which deals with the    legal position of employed (part-time or whole time) journalists. As there is no specific legislation stating the position of freelancers, they are not given the same employment related benefits and privileges as the employed journalists. The benefits available to the freelancers depend on the contract entered into by them with the organisation they are freelancing for. The freelancers are generally not in a position to negotiate and bargain hence the standard terms and conditions are generally not in their favour.
 
Effect: Due tothe legal regulations, it is better to be employed in an organisation rather than being a freelancer. To ensure payments it is advised that a freelancer should enter into a written contract before he starts freelancing for an organisation. One should also carefully review the terms and conditions before signing the contract.
 
2. Do freelancers have the right to unionise and bargain collectively?
 
Answer: No, freelancers do not have the right to unionise and bargain collectively as a trade union which enjoys statutory recognition however they can form an association to agitate for their rights. Although journalists who are employed do have unions registered for them but no such unions exist for freelancers.
 
Reasoning: No law exists for freelancers in India. Hence, they do not have the same rights as the journalists. The right of freelancers to unionise and bargain collectively is not yet recognised in India. It is available to freelancers in foreign countries but not in India.
 
Effect: Employed journalists and freelancers have never been treated equally. Freelancers do not have a lot of rights which journalists have -for example, freelancers do not have the right to unionise and bargain collectively in India.
 
3. Must I have a written contract with any organisation that I freelance for?
 
Answer: No, there is no legal requirement to have a written contract with the organisation that you freelance for.
 
Reasoning: As per the Indian Contract Act, 1872 agreements between parties can be made orally or in writing. Moreover there is no other specific law which mandates that employment contracts for freelance journalists should be reduced in writing. Hence, the law does not place any duty on parties to compulsorily enter into written contracts and freelancers can enter into contracts verbally. However, it is advised that to ensure payment and to evidence the agreement, a formal written contract is entered into before commencing the work. A written contract serves as evidence at the time of a dispute arising between the parties. It protects both the parties at the time of a dispute and especially the freelancer.
 
Effect: Though it is not necessary to have a written contract but if a freelancer make a written contract with the organisation then it is easy to ascertain his rights if any  dispute arises. Hence, the freelancer should always enter into a written contract.
 
4. Do I have recourse in law for payments, etc. even if I didn’t have a written contract to start off with?
 
Answer: Yes, there is recourse in law for payments even if there is no written contract. An oral or verbal contract is valid in law under the Indian Contract Act, 1872. An oral contract has the same position in law as a written contract.
 
Reasoning: To make sure that people who enter into an oral contract do not suffer later on, the law has afforded the same protection to oral contracts as is bestowed on the written contract. However, the exact terms of the service which was offered will be difficult to demonstrate on the basis of evidence in a Court. Here the services which are offered as well as the ultimate performance of the work as well as correspondence will be vital to make out the case of the freelancer. To avoid such issues it is advised that a written contract should be entered into by the freelancer. In the alternative, it is best to ensure that all correspondence is retained and if possible, any meetings minuted.
 
Effect: Even if there is no written contract, the rights of the freelancers are still protected by the law. The oral contract has same enforceability as a written contract. If a freelancer is not paid by the organisation then he can move the Court and pray for adequate relief under the Indian Contract Act, 1872. However proving an oral agreement is difficult in a court of law and freelancers are advised to enter into formal written agreements.
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