VOICEPK.NET SPECIAL REPORT
World Press Freedom Day
Shuakat Korai from Karachi and Maqbool Jaffer from Quetta contributed to this report
Despite being on the front lines, media personnel – including reporters, camerapersons, and photojournalists, have not had the luxury of reporting safely.
As the contagion spreads, journalists put their own safety on hold at times, only to report the story at hand. At the same time, most of the media organizations have not bothered to provide their journalists with the correct personal protective equipment (PPEs) and have let them work under threat.
In fact, on May 2, 2020, the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) also released a report on ‘Media Safety and Press Freedom in Pakistan during 2019-2020’ which highlighted that at least 38 media workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, but that actual figures were much higher as only a small fraction of media workers have been tested for the virus. Two journalists also passed away as a result of COVID-19.
Between January 2019 and April 2020, journalists in Pakistan have been working under severe restrictions with little accountability of those who limit freedom of expression, continue to target journalists and aim to discredit the work of the media through a range of tools from attacking journalists to placing financial constraints on media outlets as a pressure tactic.
but with COVID-19, the year 2020 has brought its own limitations for the press.
Here are some stellar journalists that Voicepk.net reached out to, to understand how they were working during this crisis, what were the precautions they were taking, and what challenges are they facing.
The journalists include Umme Farwa from Geo News (Lahore), Rabia Noor a reporter with ARY News (Lahore), Riaz Sohail a reporter at BBC Urdu (Karachi), Nadia Suboohi from Geo News (Peshawar), Hafeezullah Sherani a reporter from Voice of America (Quetta).
What difficulties did you face during the coverage of Covid-19?
Umme Farwa: The most difficult thing from the start of this crisis like the situation was that there was no spokesperson in the hospitals or the health sector who could give us information, and when we contacted them sometimes we would get the information sometimes we would not.
Rabia Noor: This kind of situation has been very difficult for us, because when we report we don’t go inside the hospitals or the quarantine but we do sometimes have to go to certain areas where the patients are – which are sealed because of Covid-19. You are checking your device to see if it’s a safe zone or not, so you are basically exposing yourself to various areas, and even in the markets you are unsafe. Basically, whatever we do, we still feel insecure when we go out to report.
Riaz Sohail: I think the lack of awareness that people have, that poses the biggest challenge for us and we face a lot of difficulties that way. The public itself does not take care of themselves so when we go out in public, it feels like we are on a battlefield.
Nadia Suboohi: In Khyber Pukhtunkhwa it is difficult for women to work in the field in any case, and then we have to encounter people who are not abiding the rules and directives of the government despite there being Section 144 imposed in the province. And then sometimes we have to speak to the camera in front of them saying that these people are not following rules, which they take offense at.
Hafeezullah Sherani: I go out to the field and work there in various places, take interviews, record. Three months ago I interviewed this young doctor, and then sometime after I found out that the doctor had contracted Coronavirus. After that I went to the Fatima Jinnah Hospital and then got my test for Coronavirus but thank god it was negative.
Have u ever faced anxiety/depression? If yes, how did you cope with it?
NS: The day we began reporting about Corona, we started undergoing a lot of stress and tension; because we were told that it is highly contagious. So we went to all these places, and interviewed and reported working hard, but all with the utmost professionalism – giving the public all the facts and figures and responsibly proving that the journalist that they are listening to is giving verified information and awareness.
RN: My mother lives with me and she is aged, and I am so conscious of this fact, that sometimes I start to feel depressed about anything happening to my mother because of me. That is a huge trauma that I undergo – once recently I even feel sick because of this stress and tension.
UF: I became really depressed because I could not reach the right people for information to give to my media organization, because this was something that I had to do. It was really stressing me out.
In the beginning, I thought that I would have to also work in the same way as my colleagues were – going to the hospitals and working there but I was rescued from this stress at least, because my media organization has given me a lot of relief in this way because they gave me masks, sanitizers, gloves, and gave me instructions on how to use them and told me to stay outside the hospital and report from there, instead of going inside.
HS: In this situation, my family is really very worried, they are concerned about me – my wife, my mother, and my brothers. When I get home, my wife gives me a hand sanitizer or tells me to wash my hands at once, sometimes after washing up I use a sanitizer again, and the gloves or mask that I have used I throw in the bin.
Has your family ever stop you from covering stories during the Coronavirus situation?
NS: I have been appearing on television since the last 18 years so my family has encouraged me quite a lot, appreciating and criticizing my work both. But during the Corona pandemic, I faced a lot of hindrances because of my own family. They said don’t go out – they were obviously thinking that if doctors can’t save themselves even, how can a reporter do so?
UF: Just like everyone’s family has been telling them to stay home and not go out, my family told me the same as well, telling me to care for myself. And so I always keep sanitizer, gloves, mask, in my bag.
R.S: Coronavirus is something that isn’t visible to the eye, which doesn’t give out a sound – so how can I tell where it will come from next. So when you go into the field, these worries and concerns are exacerbated, and when you are interviewing people you are scared of the thought that you might get infected too. And that’s the reason why your family is also scared and asks you to stay home when everything is under lockdown.
H.S: When my mother – who lives in a village – got to know about the whole scenario, she called me and told me to leave my job, and to just get onto the next bus home. I told her, this is not possible, how can I quit working?
But she kept telling me to quit my job. She said, “Come home, we have some goats here, I will take care of everything!” This is how worried she has been.
R.N: My in-laws are not used to this kind of work-life so they are very concerned and this is something you can infect anyone with. It won’t be just me, I will be responsible for everyone. My husband is very concerned about that. I also wanted to come on Labour Day to work but he told me to rest and take a day off and that was truly very good for me. Even now he makes sure that I have all the PPEs in my bag and that I use the sanitizer regularly. He even told me not to go everywhere in the field.
I understood this and realized that one cannot put one’s neck out and try and cover dangerous situations, there are times when you must sit down and work. You have to generate the news, not become news yourself.
What inspires you to continue working in the field by risking your life?
NS: I used to get depressed but then I realized how doctors and many other professionals continue to do their jobs diligently during this crisis. Similarly, journalists too have a great responsibility to keep the public updated and give a message of hope and positivity. This gave me the motivation that what I’m doing goes beyond professionalism, that it’s actually a service to humanity. And that thought is where my energy and will comes from to work harder at my job since it can actually make a difference during these times.
RN: We can’t stop working. It’s a job that needs to be done. Our elders always tell us that everything is in God’s hands. Their encouragement gives us psychological strength. Because no matter how strong you are, this is a situation where you do feel weak at some point or the other.
UF: Journalists are on the front lines, going into the field to report and risking their lives to bring minute to minute news to the public. Their job is as commendable and important as doctors and other medical professionals.
RS: Whenever there is a crisis like this one, the public’s expectation from the media increases. So as journalists, we can’t sit at home. In fact, we start thinking more about how to give more awareness to the public. We seek out more on-ground stories that are not usually reported because the national media presents a macro view and perspective. However, the local stories are very important to keep the public informed and inspired. And that is what we as journalists do, seek out fresh stories with a substance that impart, learning, experience, and awareness. And thus the journalist becomes an integral part of the narrative too.