Across the country journalists have reported the situation, tracked those who may have set off a chain of contamination, and brought all the news and updates to their readers and viewers at great personal risks. Most have not got proper, or official guidance or protective gear, from their seniors, and editors, and of course are replying on information being shared by medical experts. Washing hands, carrying sanitizers, wearing masks, even gloves if possible is all that a journalist has for protection, apart from our own common sense.
Reporters, photo and video journalists especially, cannot work from home. Every day reporters, and photographers have visited, reported from, and mapped the areas. We have spoken to survivors, documented relief work and seen things unfold in real time. While taking the best of precautions when outdoors, CoronaVirus outbreak continues to attack unsuspecting victims, especially in the poorer, crowded areas where basic hygiene is out of reach in the best of times. Journalists, especially freelancers and those who work with independent media houses should be seen as a vulnerable community.
Many were shocked to read, and see this piece by Editors Guild Of India president Shekhar Gupta, one of the senior most journalists working in the media today says: “Journalism in the time of corona: This is the biggest story of our lives. A billion-plus people expect us to be around, watching, reporting, editing, recording this for posterity, blowing the whistle on injustices and state failures,” He wrote an editorial that accompanied a video where he reminds all journalists of our duties, but concludes by saying: “I think all of us will survive. This is not the plague of the 19th century… This disease itself is not like the plague of the 19h century in the pre antibiotic days’ ‘ First of all, COVID-19 is a virus and antibiotics do not treat viral illnesses.
Mr Gupta continues to ‘reassure’ journalists that they “will not die” covering CoronaVirus and adds with a chuckle that “in the most unlikely event of someone ever died. There will be other journalists on hand to cover this.”
In case indian journalists had forgotten, he reminds us that “this is a big story, and journalism in the time of corona will be a different challenge.” In the video, recorded in what is perhaps his office, or his study at home, he does not share any information or tips from his vast career covering various, and many dangerous events. As the founder of the online portal The Print, he could have shared many tips and advice on ethical ways of reporting, processing, presenting information digitally.
He signs off with, “once again fasten seatbelts, there is a job to do.”
Not at all helpful for the scores of journalists who have been reporting the Anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protests, the Delhi Pogrom that was unleashed on February 2020, and now the humanitarian relief work in the riot scarred areas that continued well into March 2020, even in the wake of the CoronaVirus pandemic.
The journalists, especially the younger ones, need proper guidance on how to cover the biggest news development for even those with decade long careers. They need to be told how to stay safe while they report from the field, and how to avoid unnecessary travel if the information can be sourced over the phone.
The risks of exposure to COVID-19 are amplified in Delhi as journalists, across the media, have also been covering the massive Anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protests, including the Jehangir Puri protest where an organiser recently tested Covid-19 positive. While the protest organisers are not seriously considering suspending the movement, and efforts are on to convince the women of Shaheen Bagh to also suspend the protest in the interest of community health. Journalists who were at both the sites, and some may have already put themselves at risk.
Interestingly the most proactive measure was taken by Delhi Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who tweeted that his government will conduct all their meetings digitally now. “It’s very important that all journalists, who are on the forefront of our battle against Corona, also protect themselves as they are in a high exposure environment,” he stated.
All Delhi Govt. press conferences will be conducted digitally now. It’s very important that all journalists, who are on the forefront of our battle against Corona, also protect themselves as they are in a high exposure environment.
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 21, 2020
Now is also a good time to spare a minute to remember Tehelka photo journalist Tarun Sehrawat who died of cerebral malaria that he contracted when we reported, unprotected and not trained enough by his seniors, from Chhattisgarh. He fell ill, but continued to work after his return too, till his health spiraled downhill. He died a few days later. He was 22.