Wednesday May 31, 2023

What media industry is doing to save journalists from coronavirus

March 27, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Two journalists have been tested positive for coronavirus. The news has sparked concerns about the safety of media persons as majority of them is exposed to pandemic in absence of protective gear and proper guidelines. Incidentally, both of the affected journalists are below 30.

Contrary to majority of the cases which are tested positive but did not have symptoms, these journalists had themselves tested after the symptoms emerged. Both of them don’t know how, when and from whom they contracted the virus. (Names of the infected persons are not being disclosed as newspaper policy). One is associated with Abb Takk TV Channel. Based in Wazirabad, this 28-year old was the first Pakistani journalist tested positive on March 20. Presently admitted at District Headquarter Hospital Gujranwala, he was having flu and shared his concerns with a colleague who took him to hospital for test which turned out positive.

Almost at the same time, a Lahore-based producer of Channel 24, felt sick while at work. He begged for early leave which was granted. The next day, he was having fever. The office advised him for corona test. He was hesitant in the beginning but submitted to the pressure later on. He’s admitted at Mayo Hospital Lahore in isolation ward set up for corona patients. This news set alarm bell ringing among his colleagues at the office as

he was having office job unlike reporters who go into field. He could have either contracted from somebody in office or at home. Finally, it was decided to have tested his family and colleagues.

“So far, we have our 100 staffers tested and 48 of them are negative. Result of the remaining is awaited,” said Mian Tahir, Director News of Channel 24. He said the management has decided to have all employees tested no matter they work in main cities or in bureaus. In addition, he said, we have disinfected our office and seating arrangement has been revised in order to keep the staffers at distance of four-feet from each other.

From now on, tea service has also been stopped in order to further eliminate possibility of infection, Tahir further explained. Right now, there is a self service. Staff has been advised to bring their own cups and self-prepare tea if and when they feel like. Congregational prayers have been banned to avert the possibility from contracting virus on such occasions.

Office has been made paperless, Tahir goes on, and sanitizers have been kept at entry/ exit points. Since reporters go to field, their entry into newsroom has been prohibited as a precautionary measure. Staff partly work from office and home on rotation basis.

Is this practice being introduced in other newsrooms of TV channels? There is mixed reaction. A top manager of a channel said his organisation is encouraging staff to work from home.

“By this way, we keep them reserved for any untoward situation. Our 40% staff works from home and 60% from office,” he said. Journalists working at district and tehsil level are more vulnerable than those operating from main cities.

“We are still asked to do live reporting from the scene,” complained a district reporter of a leading channel. It is important for our safety that management doesn’t push us for “live and as live beepers”, he said. Audio beeper should replace the video beeper in current circumstances, he said.

Meanwhile, Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors issued guidelines Thursday. “Goal of this guideline is to prevent our outdoor staff from getting infected from the external environment and also to prevent external infection to contaminate our office and equipment,” reads the beginning paragraph. This follows instructions that what health security protocol should journalists follow when leaving office for outdoor assignment, reaching at assigned location, working there and returning to office.

Regarding newspapers, staffers at some organisations have been asked to work from home. All Pakistan Newspaper Society was approached to ask whether any collective strategy has been formed to address the challenges journalists come across due to pandemic. A well-placed APNS official replying to this query said that an advisory is being issued to all member publications for taking necessary precautionary measures. “They should include, but should not be limited to, keeping newsrooms, pre-press, press and printing premises regularly sanitized and making news staff, pre-press and press staff equipped with necessary safety gear like gloves and masks,” he said reading from the advisory prepared in this respect.