COVID-19 Coverage: Survey Reveals Poor Attention to Journalists’ Safety

COVID-19 Coverage: Survey Reveals Poor Attention to Journalists’ Safety

…As Media/Civil Society Groups Demand Insurance, Protection Equipment, Special Allowance Journalists covering the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria have said they lack sufficient protection and are not adequately catered for. The Journalists disclosed this in a survey conducted by a group of media and civil society groups between April 27 and May 1 this year “to

…As Media/Civil Society Groups Demand Insurance, Protection Equipment, Special Allowance

Journalists covering the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria have said they lack sufficient protection and are not adequately catered for. The Journalists disclosed this in a survey conducted by a group of media and civil society groups between April 27 and May 1 this year “to assess the support available to Journalists for their safety in covering the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria”.

Five groups-the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), Enough is

Enough (EiENigeria), International Press Centre (IPC), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), commissioned the survey following perceptions that Journalists were being exposed to danger in the course of covering the pandemic.

According to a statement signed by Executive Director, IPC, Mr Lanre Arogundade, a total of 463 male and female Journalists participated in the survey. They included correspondents, reporters, editors, freelancers and presenters from 73 print, broadcast and online media across 33 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

Of the 463 respondents, 65 percent said their employers had not provided them with any support during assignment while only 35 percent said they had been provided with some form of support.

The survey revealed that the topmost needs of journalists covering the COVID-19 pandemic are:

Additional monetary allowance separate from salary and payment of outstanding salaries by owing employers;

Special COVID-19 coverage insurance package;

Specialized training on COVID-19 reporting;

Provision of face masks; and

Provision of specialized equipment to enable social distancing while on the field.

Concerned about the poor attention to the safety and welfare of Journalists covering the pandemic as revealed by the survey, the organizations have called on media owners and managers to:

Widen the scope of their support to ensure that reporters on the field are adequately insured and financially empowered while those owing salaries should have them paid;

Establish workplace policy and follow the same to equip their journalists with specialized and personal protective equipment including for observation of social distancing while on the field;

Provide training to journalists on how to crowd source information for their stories without having to necessarily go to the field; and

Explore technological options for interviews while in-house infrastructure should be put in place to ensure the safety of employees and guests (particularly for broadcast media) in line with the safety advisory of the government and health authorities.

They also enjoined freelance journalists to take advantage of reporting grants and other opportunities to procure personal protective equipment while covering the pandemic.

The six organizations also charged media development, civil society groups and other stakeholders to lead campaigns and advocacies for the safety of and support for Journalists covering the COVID-19 pandemic.

Says Ms Motunrayo Alaka, executive director/CEO, WSCJI, in the Executive Summary of the report titled Survey Report On The Support Available To Nigerian Journalists During COVID-19, “The existential threat of COVID-19 also known as the novel Coronavirus has left health care systems globally to grapple with various issues.

“In Nigeria, ever since the index case was discovered and reported on 27 February 2020, Journalists and by extension the media have tried to accurately inform citizens on the pandemic, reporting original stories, identifying gaps in government’s efforts, correcting misconceptions about the virus through fact checking efforts, and helping citizens make informed decisions.

“Just as frontline health care workers have been exposed to contracting the virus while doing their jobs, Journalists who cover stories in the midst of movement restrictions and lockdowns have also been considerably exposed. However, unlike the health care workers who are compulsorily required to use personal protective equipment (PPE) while on duty, there has not been a clearly defined and acceptable protocol for Journalists especially from media owners other than the general preventive information passed to the general public,” she notes on behalf of the coalition.

Against the backdrop of accolades showered by President Muhammadu Buhari on the media and other groups in his broadcast of Monday, April 13th, 2020, for their role in sensitising the citizenry on hygienic practices and social distancing, some bigwigs of the famed fourth estate of the realm in an earlier report titled Media Chieftains Decry Journalists’ Excruciating Working Conditions, by the Nigerian Democratic Report (NDR), concur that in spite of some challenges, the media’s role in reporting COVID-19 has been particularly daunting.

Confronted by months of unpaid salaries, harrowing conditions of service which makes no provision for insurance and lack of personal protection equipments (PPE), they noted that the Nigerian Journalists have shoved that aside and risen to be counted as the nation battle the spread of the virus that has spiked to over three million cases, killing more than 200,000 persons globally. With 3,526 cases, 107 deaths and 601 discharged patients by the night of Thursday, May 7th, 2020, the country is still considered as one of the least impacted countries by the virus in the world.

The media chieftains also observe that poor power supply which makes Journalists to spend a fortune in powering their stand by electricity generators and the high cost of internet access is a big challenge.

They posit that the media is greatly encumbered in its work and requires support by government and other public spirited groups within society to adequately carry out the task of reporting the COVID-19 outbreak.

The editors implore a section of the media which has been publishing unverifiable claims and spreading fiction, on the coronavirus in respect to the 5G, to desist from doing so.

Responding to Buhari’s thumb up for the media, Publisher, Political Economist magazine, Mr Kenneth Ugbechie asserts that “The media has done well in the circumstance hence deserves the President’s commendation.”

He however contends that “The Nigerian media has been in a peculiar recession and distress, struggling to pay its bills and suddenly the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic which has placed additional burden on already stretched industry.”

“Think about this, other professionals involved in the management of the pandemic get paid special allowance including security personnel and the medics…only the media do so as a matter of routine…no special treatment, they are not even properly kitted with personal protection equipment (PPE). Some are being owed salary in their workplaces. For me, the media has risen to the occasion using the social media and conventional channels to update and advise Nigerians,” Ugbechie, also a former Editor, Daily Times quips.

“But could they have done better? Yes! Especially in the aspect of investigative journalism to debunk several theories that cast a pall of confusion on the public… The media should do more investigations on the real cause of the pandemic…source of the virus, probe deeper into the story from China on the true picture of death toll which a section of the media claims is under reported by Chinese authorities,” he says.

Echoing similar thought, National Secretary, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Shuaibu Usman Leman says, “The media deserve the praise because like medical professionals, media professionals are also on the front lines in this battle against COVID-19.

“Sadly though,” he noted, “the Federal and State Governments have not done anything to encourage the media. For example, the issue of power, media houses spend their meagre resources in buying diesel to run generators with no support from Government. The high cost of data is a big challenge.

“Journalists move around without insurance because most media houses cannot afford it. No Personal Protection Equipment for Journalists who cover hospitals and isolation centres. We must take care of Journalists as a matter of priority and provide assistance to media organizations if we are to win this battle. We have little time,” the NUJ chieftain added.

Explaining the contributions of the media, Mr Mustapha Isah Osikhekha, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), says, “The media, especially the broadcast outfits, have done some work in sensitizing the people on ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

According to him, “My stations (STV and Rhythm FM) air messages on social distancing and personal hygiene. Journalists have been out there doing reports on the pandemic despite the lockdown.”

Osikhekha, also head of news at both Radio and TV at Silverbird, is worried that a section of the media have been disseminating fiction about the pandemic. “Unfortunately, some media houses have helped in promoting myths and conspiracy theories on the origin of coronavirus. Some have published unverifiable claims that COVID-19 was caused by 5G. Our major duty as Journalists is to separate facts from fiction. Facts are sacred.” The Guild’s president explains.

Managing Director, The Sun, Mr Onuoha Ukeh also agrees that “The media has done well in a bad situation, even though there are still opportunities to do more going forward.” He believes, “The media should continue sensitisation and through its reportage emphasise need for social distancing, observance of basic hygiene as well as focusing on efforts to discover cure for COVID-19.”

In accessing the impact of the initial 14 day lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the nation’s capital Abuja, President Buhari was effusive in his applaud of not just the heroic contributions of medical workers and volunteers but also the media and other groups for their sensitising role.

“I must also thank the media houses, celebrities and other public figures for the great work they are doing in sensitizing our citizens on hygienic practices, social distancing and issues associated with social gatherings,” he says in the Monday evening broadcast.

But while promising further measures to motivate the health workers and volunteers, the President was silent on the media whose contribution is equally heroic.

“At this point, I must recognise the incredible work being done by our healthcare workers and volunteers across the country especially in frontline areas of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory.

“You are our heroes and as a nation, we will forever remain grateful for your sacrifice during this very difficult time. More measures to motivate our health care workers are being introduced which we will announce in the coming weeks,” he says.

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