At the Bhopal office of Nav Duniya — a Hindi newspaper owned by Jagran Prakashan Limited — nearly 38 employees tested positive for Covid-19 early this month. According to employees Newslaundry spoke to at the newspaper, the spread of the virus in the organisation is largely attributable to the management insisting that the staff turn up at the office premises, even after cases were detected in the office.
“Almost every other news organisation like Dainik Bhaskar or Bhopal Patrika were asking their employees to work from home. On the contrary, our office was functional and the option to do the job from home was not given to us,” an employee told Newslaundry, on the condition of anonymity.
Nav Duniya, which currently employs 85 people, instituted a work-from-home setup from March 26 to May 7, after which employees were expected to report daily to the office. “We used to have our routine morning meetings, and 100 percent of employees were being called. Even if we objected, it was in vain because the editor made it clear that it was mandatory to come,” the employee said.
During the lockdown, the office followed Covid guidelines by providing basics like masks and sanitisers to its employees. While 50 percent of the employees were working from home, those who had to report to the office were given sanitisers and masks as a precautionary measure against the virus. The entire office was also sanitised several times, to avoid any transmission. “On each of the employees’ desks, we had sanitisers kept for use,” an employee said.
However, the employees also claimed that after the lockdown was lifted, the guidelines were not adhered to with full prudence. An employee told us: “Now, since none of the employees were working from home and all of us had to report to the office daily, social distancing was barely maintained and it was left on us to be alert at our end. Initially, we were given masks, but later we had to bring our own. The sanitisers at the desks were replaced by just one at the main entrance. The machine that was installed to check the body temperature was removed from the office after the lockdown was lifted.”
Nav Duniya is owned by Uttar Pradesh’s Jagran Prakashan Ltd, one of India’s leading media and communication groups. The 73-year-old daily is the second-largest newspaper group in Madhya Pradesh after Dainik Bhaskar. The newspaper’s readership extends to cities like Indore, Bhopal, Gwalior, Patna, Ranchi, Mumbai and Delhi. Outside Bhopal, the newspaper goes by Nai Duniya.
The news organisation saw its first case of coronavirus on July 8. A health reporter, who came to the office for a week despite having a fever, tested positive. The editor, on being intimated, simply asked the other employees to remain alert but continue reporting to the office.
Another employee who wished to remain anonymous said, "We were given to understand that no matter what happens, you have to keep coming to the office. By the time we were informed about our health reporter testing positive, other employees had also started showing symptoms, like fever, cough, cold, body pain, and headaches. But the editor didn’t budge.”
On July 9, a meeting was held and the district administrator was asked to set up a testing camp at the office after some employees complained of Covid-like symptoms. Importantly, the office continued to remain open from July 9 to July 11 while the staff awaited results. The test reports came around 4 pm on July 11, confirming that 14 employees had tested positive. The employees Newslaundry spoke to stated that after the reports came in, those who had tested positive were sent to Covid centres, but the rest were asked to remain in the office, complete their work, and then leave.
On the very next day, July 12, one of the newspaper’s support staff was directed to go to the office. The following day, around 18 more confirmed cases, including the support staff, were reported from the newspaper’s office, pushing the tally beyond 30. “Since then, the number has increased to around 35-40,” an employee added.
Confirming the news of employees contracting the virus, the editor Sanjay Mishra told Newslaundry, “Most of them have already recovered and have gone home.” On being asked if he knew the total count of employees that had been infected, he said he was not a “doctor” to be informed about such things. However, he added: “There might be around 24-25. My colleagues would have slowly contracted the disease by coming in contact with each other. Now, if you want to do a story on it, you can, I have given you this much information.”
Newslaundry was unable to confirm if the office had been sealed since July 13. We tried reaching Avinash Lavania, the city’s collector, but did not receive any response. Commissioner Kavindra Kiyawat said he was not the right person to comment on the issue. We repeatedly tried contacting Dr Prabhakar Tiwari, the chief medical health officer of Bhopal, but were not successful.
However, Nav Duniya employees confirmed that the office was still running. “Although after July 13 we were allowed to work from home, there was still pressure from the editor to come to the office premises,” said an employee who tested positive for Covid but has since recovered.
Will he resume work now that he’s better? The employee said: “It is my job and I cannot leave it. I am home quarantined for 14 days now. And while the condition of some employees is worsening, there are around five to 10 employees who have recovered. We will start work once we recover.” He also claimed that the families of some of the employees had contracted the virus too.
When Newslaundry reached out to editor Sanjay Mishra for his views on compulsory attendance, he said, “Whatever you want to write, you can.” Suggesting how journalism should be carried out, he said, “In a daily newspaper, there is a lot of work to do. Why are you working? You are working for just filing a story, right? So, I do not wish to talk to you. Whatever you feel like writing, you can.”
Mishra is not incorrect when he says the news cannot stop. But media houses across the country are producing news without instituting 100 percent attendance. Instead, they have adapted to the pandemic by introducing social distancing norms within the office and work from home routines, Newslaundry included. Journalism is an essential service, but should Nav Duniya’s employees be expected to put themselves at risk to the extent required by their management?
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