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Your TV screens with various colorful and ‘important’ news coverage might not paint such a depressing picture but the fact of the matter is completely different.

If there were any other frontline warriors apart from doctors, paramedics and police personnel, those were journalists; when I say journalists I don’t refer to our prime time anchors who bring some great debates but the ground reporters who give information about what’s precisely happening and freelancers or stringers as we call them who work on a contract basis or per article basis or per news basis.

Data is not accurate about how many have died until today but every second day there have been reports about the death of journalists due to COVID 19. I would like to bring forth some reports and news that caught my attention.

  • 10 September – Assam – Asim Datta, Dhaneshwar Rabha – both in their mid-ages died due to COVID 19. Post these deaths, the journalists forum of Assam had written to the state Govt that there is need for compensation and the Govt has responded with provision of insurance worth 50 lakhs.
  • 1 September – Nilanshu from Indian Express dies due to COVID and New York times writes an elaborative report on him about his life. He has covered the migrant crisis from the ground and was supposed to get married in December.
  • 3 September – Pune – Pandurang Raikar who worked for TV9 according to reports, died due to inability of the hospital to quickly admit him and start the treatment. The deputy CM of Maharashtra has ordered a probe into this.
  • 24 August – Jaideep from Patiala dies due to COVID and the CM of Punjab announces 10 lakh compensation.
  • 13 July – Ganjam, Odisha – Simanchal Panda dies of COVID whose son died due to the same just 5 days ago.
  • Tarun Sisodia’a case caught my attention in July when he died by suicide at AIIMS, Delhi. A Committee has been setup to investigate the same.
  • These have been some examples, many of them have come out in the reports but names of those reports haven’t been mentioned. Several other states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has announced relief measures for those who lost their lives. (Dates mentioned above are of the reports and not deaths)

The larger picture is, how protected is the fourth pillar of democracy? Has the Govt extended the same social security nets to this segment like that of doctors or law enforcement agencies? If not, then why?

It talks about how physically protected these people were and the kind of measures their agencies or organizations took to keep them.

But do we have the ‘data’ to raise questions? Nope.

Economically many journalists have lost their jobs and have also suffered pay cuts. It is seen that large media houses have cut down on the number of employees or even reduced their supplement publications or such features. Local journalists who work as stringers to the mainstream media houses have also lost revenue and daily bread as they do not have enough resources to reach remote locations and get news. Experts are of the opinion that these local stringers are the only connect of the mainstream media houses to the grassroot level and if this is lost then media which is already attracting the wrath of citizens for being irrelevant will also become ‘metro’ in its nature.

The Press council of India and such bodies need to bat for this creed of people who are working with a noble aim and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting along with the Ministry of Labor and Employment need to take quick cognizance of this issue and provide relief. The state Govt of Assam has provided an insurance up to 50 lakhs to the journalists who have died and several other states have done it only on the basis of humanity and nothing else.

There must be a uniform policy for this throughout the nation and journalists, predominantly freelancers need to be focused on and made a part of such packages like the 20 crore one.

– Md Saqlain Jameel

– Bengaluru

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