— This is a translated article which was originally written by Mona Khan and published at sujag.org
Gohar Rehman was mentally prepared that his Corona test result would be positive. When he got the result on May 6, all he was worried about was how to reveal this news to his family as there was a fear that his job might infect him with the virus.
Gohar Rehman, 24, works as a reporter for the news channel Rohi TV. In mid-March, the Punjab provincial government imposed a socio-economic lockdown in his hometown of Multan to prevent the spread of the corona virus. Their responsibility was to report on pilgrims returning from Iran who were brought to the local quarantine center where the virus was out of control by then.
“The propaganda that comes with the virus also needed to be curbed and we knew the media had to do it,” he said in an audio message.
After testing positive for corona, Gohar Rehman was transferred to Indus Hospital (formerly Tayyip Erdogan Hospital) in Muzaffargarh, near Multan, which has now become a major corona virus treatment center in Punjab.
He said that while he was doing his job, he was fully implementing all other necessary safety measures, including keeping distance from other people. Therefore, he did not know how and when the virus was transmitted to him.
Jamshed Rizwani, head of Rohi TV channel in South Punjab, says: “Rohi TV’s Multan bureau has taken a number of security measures for its field reporters and newsroom workers. They are performing their duties from home but the body temperature of the workers who come to the office is checked regularly and their shoes are also disinfected regularly.
However, he acknowledged that there was no way he could protect reporters who usually had to work outside the channel’s offices.
But in the current context, leaving reporters to their own may not be a good strategy.
Remember the incident that occurred in 2014 ? where terrorists attacked Karachi Airport and 38 people were killed.
On this occasion, spectators across the country watched the military commandos fighting for the security of the airport with their eyes fixed on their TV screens. At risk, they reached the part of the airport where no one was allowed to go.
Like me, Shahzeb Hashim teaches at the Karachi Center for Excellence in Journalism and at the same time works as a news editor at Dawn.com stated that,”Reporters, although aware of the dangers posed by direct reporting, believe that they cannot become good journalists without risking their lives.”
That’s why many major media outlets have taken unusually strict security measures immediately after the arrival of the corona virus in Pakistan.
Manza Siddiqui, who works as an executive producer at the Geo Television Network in Karachi, explains how her channel has developed a comprehensive strategy to protect its staff from COVID-19.
Here is a description of this strategy:
In order to ensure social distance, the duty in the newsroom is changed in such a way that only one-third of all staff members working in an eight-hour shift are present in the newsroom at a time. The temperature is checked, their shoes are cleaned with disinfectant spray and they are provided with masks and gloves as soon as they enter the office premises. Similarly, the editorial staff is allowed to go only to that part of the office where they do their job.
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization working for the freedom and protection of journalists, has also advised media outlets not to specifically allow their staff to report and transmit live from crowded places. Many media outlets are strictly following this advice, but there are many that have not taken it seriously.
A reporter working for a news channel in Multan says that after the easing of lockdown, his officers are forcing top reporters to cover markets and other public places directly. Asking for anonymity for fear of disciplinary action, she said: “When we talk to people on the streets, we are always at risk of contracting the virus, because it is possible that some people may have the virus with no visible signs of having it.
She also complained that her organization did not provide adequate safety equipment to its employees. A pair of gloves and a few ordinary masks are not enough for all staff members.
Omar Qureshi is a journalist from Karachi who has held senior editorial positions in many organizations. He believes that such indifference to the physical safety of journalists is not limited to the corona virus. He claimed that, the safety of journalists has never been a priority for Pakistani media outlets. Reporters don’t even have equipment like helmets and protective jackets to cover a hostile area.
Qureshi works as the CEO of Positive Media Communication, an online news website. According to him the lack of safety equipment are considered as a burden because over all costs is increase of making and broadcasting news. Similarly, TV channels are not allowing their talk show hosts to do their shows from home as it is also a matter of costs or technology.
On the other hand, there are reports surfacing that despite the availability of all kinds of safety equipment, some journalists are not using it. According to one such journalist, the reason is that seeing a reporter wearing protective clothing spreads panic among the people thwarts every one to talk.
Another major reason for avoiding the use of protective equipment is that, like the rest of Pakistan, the journalistic community is divided over the deadly nature of the virus.
While Manza Siddiqui says that journalists working in her newsroom wear gloves in full compliance with safety regulations, even though it is not easy to work on a computer in their presence, other people tell a completely different story.
For example, Ashraf Khan, president of the Karachi Union of Journalists, said that many journalists criticized his union for not holding a public rally on World Press Freedom Day. He further added that holding a rally in such situation would be a direct violation of government SOP’s but the journalist who criticize the move seems not to care about it.
Rohi TV’s Jamshed Rizwani also says that people working in his newsroom do not consider the corona virus a serious threat and generally avoid safety precautions. “When they sit next to each other in the office,” What can you do?’
As a result of this division of views, the number of journalists infected with the virus is growing rapidly.
On May 13, I had to speak to two reporters in two different cities, but on the same day I had a medical emergency at my home that prevented me from doing so. When I contacted them again in less than 48 hour, they were both infected with the corona virus.
Similarly, the Freedom Network, an Islamabad-based NGO, in its May 11 report put the number of journalists affected by CoV-19 at 54. But a few days later, on May 19, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) rescue committee said that so far 159 journalists have been infected with the disease. In Lahore alone, 84 journalists have been found to be infected with the corona virus.
In terms of the number of journalists infected with the virus, Islamabad-Rawalpindi ranks second with 23 cases, while Quetta ranks third with 17 infected.
According to the rescue committee, 69 journalists infected with the corona virus have recovered but three have not recovered.
The financial situation of journalists exposed to the corona virus has also deteriorated. Some media outlets have cut the salaries of their staff. Due to the financial crisis faced by the Pakistani media, the payment of salaries in many institutions has also been delayed.
A woman reporter from Lahore says, “Last month we received our salaries eight days late. Last month, half of our salaries were paid and they were paid with a delay of 12 days. How can we manage our homes in a situation like this? ‘