COVID-19: TJAA urges employers to prioritise welfare of journalists

With the world losing over 15, 000 to death due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the number of people infected  rising, an advocacy group under the aegis of Times Journalism Alumni Association(TJAA), has called on employers of journalists globally, especially those under whose employ its members serve, in Nigeria and Africa to place a high premium on the welfare of this category of workers who risk their lives daily to inform, educate and entertain the world.

Intervening against the backdrop of increasing cases of the COVID-19 infections worldwide, Chairman of TJAA, Clifford Agugoesi, noted that journalists are almost always on the go and must really stretch themselves to limits to be available where the news is happening and to be able to report this accurately, timeously and this peculiarity of their job exposes them to great risk and many have actually paid the supreme prize in the pursuit of professional duties and excellence.

“We urge employers of journalists to treat them with greater respect, compassion and dignity as no time in the history of mankind has the vulnerability and gullibility of humans, particularly our colleagues and members, being so exposed as under the COVID-19 crisis period.

“We specifically call on employers of journalists and our members in Africa in general and Nigeria in particular to prioritise their welfare more than ever before.

“As actuality reporters, we cannot pretend that all is well with our members.  They  are not immune from pathogen exposure, long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma, physical, emotional and psychological violence and cannot be left to their devices.

“Our employers owe us a duty at this time to empower us to work efficiently and effectively because it is  only under this milieu that their maximum productivity is guaranteed.

While we appreciate the role of the World Health Organisation(WHO), global experts, governments, private sector employers and  development partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus and to provide timely advice on measures to protect people’s health and prevent the spread of this outbreak, we appeal to employers of our members in Nigeria and Africa to up their games on our members’ welfare which,  at best is currently despicable and, at worse,  non-existent at all in some cases.

We cannot afford to play the ostrich at this time as COVID-19 has virtually met two of the three factors for a pandemic -rapid sickness and death and sustained person-to-person transmission and analysts saying the third criterion-worldwide spread of the virus, seems like just a matter of time.

There is no gainsaying fact that journalists face a direct threat to their health and lives and this is an opportune time for employers to show serious concern on their plight.  Journalists are the most important resource wherever they are employed and their employers must, as a matter of priority, provide them with the requisite tools and conducive environment to work in and avail them  of appropriate protective gears to keep them safe and secure in the course of work, especially at this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.  They must also put in place policies that promote the highest level of state of health of mind and body of reporters and reduce to the barest minimum, pressures borne by those who fall sick in the course of active service while putting in place a good retirement regime for those who retire.

To prevent or halt global spread, several countries have imposed travel bans to and from China and other countries and many events around the world have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

For journalists, this means fewer events to cover. All journalism beats are impacted although in varying degrees. From sports, maritime, aviation, religion, capital/money markets, insurance through technology, labour, defence et cetera, their experience is the same and confounding for most reporters.

It is a known fact media professionals face a direct threat to their health and lives as well and the situation is more dire in many developing countries who lack the resources to test and identify those infected with the virus and put up with the nagging fear that the virus may already be circulating in the local population.

Our thoughts go out especially for the freelance community, some of whom have to be on the go to meet their basic needs.  Infact, these are the worst-hit since they have neither health insurance nor leave benefits and need to be out in the field often which compounds an already bad case of meeting extra expenses such as working with facemasks and sticking to the safer and therefore costlier eating places to grab a quick bite. For this category of reporters, preventive measures such as density reduction, social distancing and their likes are neither here nor there because remaining at home equates with literally committing suicide.

We have gone at length to bring these concerns in the public space and passionately appeal to stakeholders in journalism to be more responsible and responsive to reporters who keep the world informed, educated and entertained on a regular basis.  We appeal to governments at all levels to do all within their powers-policy, regulatory and legal, among others, to ensure that journalism and journalists had the best working environments and enjoyed the best working conditions that conduce to increased productivity and a buoyant economy.

On their part, we advised reporters themselves to understand they are humans and must be guided by rules and regulations that lead to a safer and more secure humanity.

It might be nice to see productivity maximised while working remotely via telecommuting and engaging in virtual office meetings. Instead of running face-to-face interviews, it might be a good idea in the era of COVID-19 to do online interviewing and limit as much as possible, contacts with their interviewees, except where adequate safety and security measures have been certified by relevant professionals. Online press coverage needs to be seriously considered to minimise human contact and exposure and enable reporters to carry on even while confined to bed.

In addition, for reporters to always sanitise their microphones and recording gadgets with respect to broadcast journalists whereas maintaining the prescribed one (1) meter distance with others.

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