Mandatory Medical Cover, Safety Gear and Job Security For Journalists

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"‘Take care and don’t step out for a few days’ - that’s all my boss texted me when I informed her that I had tested positive for COVID-19, a disease that has no cure so far."

This is the shocking story of one among the 53 journalists in Mumbai who have been infected by the Coronavirus because they were forced to go out and report on the health crisis without being provided proper protective gear.

The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) believes that if the present unsafe working conditions for journalists continue, many more journalists will end up testing positive for the deadly virus.

As the job of the media has been deemed an essential service during the ongoing pandemic, we journalists have been working non-stop for the entire duration of the lockdown and beyond, without a single day’s break. We have gone out on the field, collecting reports, debunking misinformation and reporting from ground zero to bring the news to you the citizens of India.

As the outbreak heightened, many journalists begged not to be sent out into the field because of the risk of contracting the virus as we have families, kids and elders whom we care for. They appealed to be allowed to "work from home” and assured their managers that it wouldn’t affect the quality of our reporting. But the editors and big bosses have been unwilling to listen.

Advisories from media houses only ask journalists to take care. They don’t tell us how. A majority of us are not provided with any personal protection equipment by our news organisations. One journalist who had asked her editor to exempt her from ground reporting was told “That is not an option.” The next day, she was sent to Dharavi, a prominent coronavirus hotspot in Mumbai with 168 hospital cases and 11 reported deaths as of 22nd April.

If this is the state of reporters in a mega city like Mumbai, you can imagine how much worse it is in other metros and towns.

We are fed up with this apathy. We deserve our right to health. Because journalists have fallen prey to the Coronavirus in the call of duty, it should not only be the moral duty of our bosses but also their legal duty to fund our treatment, protect us and our jobs.

Sign BUJ’s petition asking the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the Corporate Affairs Ministry and the National Broadcasters Association to make it mandatory for all news organisations (print, television, digital and radio ) to:

1. Ensure that Medical Insurance including COVID-19 treatment coverage is given to all employees who continue to provide services during the pandemic. The coverage must extend to family members who are also exposed to the risk due to physical proximity
2. Provide full safety gear to reporters and video journalists before sending them out into the field
3. Secure all employees jobs and ensure no one is laid off.

The issue of lay-offs in many big media houses is another grave concern for us. The last thing we need in these uncertain times is to lose our jobs or endure pay cuts.

We bring you the news every day. We have covered issues that matter to you - be it politics, cricket, potholes or price rice. Today we ask you to stand with us during our difficult time.

Sign and share #SafetyForJournalists today.

(Credits: AP Photo, The Wire)