For journalists almost everywhere in the world today, the coronavirus pandemic is the biggest story. But it’s a story unlike any other, not least because doing even something as fundamental to journalism as going out to report is fraught with immense risk. So, how do journalists navigate this crisis, specifically in India?
To deliberate upon such issues, Newslaundry conducted a webinar in partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists. Those who spoke at the webinar included Colin Pereira and David Oades, journalist safety consultant and journalist safety advisor, respectively with the CPJ in London; Dhanya Rajendran, chief editor of the News Minute; Neha Dixit, independent journalist; and Manisha Pande, executive editor of Newslaundry.
Journalists, Pereira said, must equip themselves with the basic knowledge about Covid-19 before they start reporting on it. They should be fully aware about how the novel coronavirus is transmitted and how one can minimise the risk of infection. They should be able to identify the symptoms of the disease as well.
Pereira detailed the precautionary measures that reporters should take given the chance of getting infected in the field is high. He recommended they self-isolate after reporting from high-risk locations such as hospitals.
He complained that some media organisations were resisting work from home routines, saying it showed disregard for the risk a journalist put their high-risk family members at when they go out to report.
Pereira also emphasised the importance of knowing whether a community is open to outsiders. As the infection spreads, he explained, fearful communities could start seeing journalists as outsiders potentially bringing the disease to them, causing them to react aggressively.
Addressing Indian journalists, the expert encouraged them to question whether using “western models” to contain the pandemic was a good idea for a country with different social, economic, and healthcare challenges.
Adding to the discussion, Neha Dixit noted that because there is a lack of data, media outlets are relying on local journalists who lack protective gear to report. To this, Pereira reiterated that while it’s important to consider the social and economic costs of the pandemic, the risk to life is a valid concern that news organisations must keep in mind.
Chaitanya Marpakwar of the Mumbai Mirror mentioned how it was almost impossible to report on the situation in Maharashtra’s slums without going in there.
Shailesh Shrivastava, editor of 101 Reporters, a collective of freelance journalists, pointed out that because most freelance journalists lack press cards, they are having a tough time dealing with the police imposing the lockdown.
Watch the full discussion.