Covid-19 and the journalist
Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe
This is the translation of a column I write to the Sinhala language Lanka newspaper. Publishing an electronic version of Lanka newspaper is commendable because the newspapers have a unique duty even amidst the epidemic outbreaks.
In addition to reporting accurate information about the pandemic, the newspapers must look into the lapses in health and other essential services. Also, they must focus on livelihoods, food security, energy requirements, medical supplies, clothing, transportation, communication, mass media, cultural affairs, sexual and psychosocial needs and actually, there are so many topics to discuss. In a nutshell, journalists have to work hard even under the threats to their lives amidst COVID-19 pandemic.
However, they must also protect their professional colleagues, family members and the community from the epidemic. We recently observed the reckless manner of some journalists of popular TV channels of Sri Lanka who were reporting from the field.
According to the distribution and sales processes of the newspaper industry in Sri Lanka, we cannot rule out the probability of the newspapers helping to spread the virus. In this backdrop, it is good the printing of newspapers has been suspended amidst the indefinite curfew in the Western Province where the newspaper printing presses are located. However, the newspaper is indispensably the most popular mass media next to the television and although an e-paper cannot fully substitute the printed newspaper, electronic publishing is better than not publishing.
International Federation of Journalists recently issued an advisory that can be useful to the journalists who work under epidemic outbreaks. The advisory is highly useful for the Sri Lankan journalists too.
The safety of the journalists before pandemics has several layers. Let us first consider health in the workplace. The advisory says that the media employers should consider coronavirus outbreak as a health and safety crisis and fulfil their duty of care towards their staff.
Journalists and other media professionals, as well as their organizations, should follow the recommendations and advice for the public issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).
To this end, serious consideration should be given to working from home so as to reduce the risks of contracting the virus at the office.
Journalists and other media professionals should claim their right to work in healthy conditions and not to come to their work when there is a risk of coronavirus contamination.
Office equipment and space should be regularly cleaned, in particular when they are shared by staff.
Travelling can be a cause of concern to media professionals due to the crisis. There should, therefore, be a frank discussion about the need to travel and medical advice sought based on the traveller’s fitness and their health condition. Journalists and other media workers, including those who must travel abroad, need to plan their travel carefully.
Media professionals have a right to decline, without any risk to their employment, any coronavirus related national or international assignment when it represents a real danger for their health and life.
Some personal protection items such as gloves and hand sanitizers may be necessary during the assignment and these should be secured before the travelling.
Reporting on the present COVID-19 outbreak must be carried out very cautiously. We do not see the electronic media of Sri Lanka still following the strictest precautions. Safety is crucial not only in field coverage but also in studio programmes. For example, a specialist doctor who was found exposed to Covid-19 had participated in a television health programme in national television Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation. At least the make-up artist had to be sent for self-quarantine. Calling for health and other field professionals for studio programmes must be carried out with extreme precautions to prevent the media workers are exposed to the virus.
Epidemic control measures can perhaps cause social unrest in the future and when covering such incidents, the journalists must be well aware of the danger to their health.
International Federation of Journalists explains that it is important for the media personnel to monitor local news for public announcements on public health measures such as restriction on local travelling which can be restricted on short notice. There may also be further restrictions on reporting with journalists targeted with denial of access to areas, of accreditation or withdraw thereof as well as attempts to destroy footage and recording. The journalists should prepare backups by sending a copy of the recording and footage to their newsroom as soon as practicable possible.
In general, life and health insurance are essential for journalists. The editorial staff of the media organizations and the unions and associations of the journalists must advocate for the support for freelance journalists and the provincial correspondents whose income sources might be affected by this epidemic outbreak as same as the other daily paid workers and small industries.
Read in Sinhala >> කොවිඩ්-19 සහ ජනමාධ්යවේදියා
Read in Tamil >> கோவிட் -19 உம் ஊடகவியலாளரும்