COVID19 pandemic and lockdown are attacking media outlets and journalists to doom. Meanwhile, journalists are at high risk of contracting with coronavirus and on the other hand, their profession is also insecure. Few media houses have started to remove journalists from their regular work. This is causing media persons at risk of a financial crisis.
Media houses are firing media persons showing a decline in advertisements and income. As soon as income is reduced, media houses started to cut off the staff. It is obvious that a pandemic like COVID19 has reduced income for all sectors which is causing fewer advertisements for media houses. As soon as income decreases, media houses started to reduce their staff number showing the financial crisis and they could not put in work even for three to four months.
These days, journalists are collecting information keeping their lives on the risk of coronavirus contraction. However, occupational insecurity and financial problems are increasing day by day. Electronic and print media are in crisis after the decline in advertising. Journalists working in these institutions are more insecure. Media workers are constantly working for collecting information taking their lives at risk for the sake of making public informed by saving organizations, not for the salary.
In such a situation, the government of Nepal has not addressed the issues of media organizations, journalists and other personnel. Government has not paid any attention to sustain media houses and journalists dependent upon them. They have not addressed private media houses and has not provided information easily, apart from using government media as per their favor. Thus media houses and journalists are compelling not to adopt simple code of conduct.
Experts believe that the code of conduct can be followed and misinformation can be controlled only if the government is alert, make information up-to-date and provides information openly. Already prepared material, in the direction of ministry, are the notices public by the spoke-person of health ministry through reading. These are not complete information that journalists are searching, while information collected by journalists using different methods are not desirable for the government.
Press Council of Nepal, a government body that is monitoring published stories on corona infections and caused to death, has shut down 102 online web-portal that could not open inside Nepal and 156 warned with a letter for clarification from March, the starting of lockdown, till the mid of July 2020. Among them, three media institutions have submitted commitment letter of not to do in the future for resuming.
Fifteen complaints have been registered in Press Council alleged of giving faulty message of corona infections during the scary situation. Similarly, action has been started for 21 electronic media outlets that were alleged of receiving public complaints on different issues but not on COVID issues. Council said that letter for clarification have been sent for 15 online that have published stories on Prime Minister have deposited money on a Swiss bank. Further, the press council had asked 2 TV stations of Baglung to close crossing the border of jurisdiction without informing the concerned authorities.
Deputy Administrative Officer Ram SharanBohora said “we have monitored 55 print media and warned 28 media organizations who have not followed code of conduct during the publication of coronavirus related issue”. He further added that 13 complaints were registered besides COVID 19 issues.
Further Mr. Bohora added “109 complaints were registered on COVID 19 issues published on electronic media, radio, television, online media in which 15 complaints were other than corona issues. Regular complaints are also increasing tremendously. Demoralizing dignity and false information are the issues of regular complaints.”
Senior journalist Ram Krishna Regmi suggests “As media are in crisis, Press Council should focus on rescuing and uplifting the media and assist in the flow of information at the moment and not the action of controlling media.”
Commenting on the role of media in case corona infection and lockdown, senior journalist Regmi says, “Different diseases swine flu, bird flu & others came, while they do not spread worldwide rapidly and do not endanger human existence globally as of COVID 19. This is a new topic for the world and for the media as well. However, the information that the media is trying to convey is on the right track.”
He said “Sometimes people who were not killed by COVID were said to have infected because of a mismatch between the medical code of conduct and information flow. When the name and address of the infected person were made public, in Nepalese society, not only the name, surname and ward of the infected person but also the family was identified. This also led to discrimination in Nepalese society. This is due to the situation where messages are disseminated without any thinking of future results”.
In Nepal media receive information only after the first patient of COVID 19 infection was cured and returned to work. However, the second corona contraction was of student return from France that caused defamation on social media. In this situation discrimination in society arise, therefore, journalists should follow the science and ethics of journalism, healthy competition and cancel the thinking of doing breakings. Mr.Regmi said “anyone can be infected by COVID 19 and no one needs to be thought strong thus there is no competition on such issues. This is not the first case that such issue is happening so this is used to be and still in place.”
He says “it is commendable that the media personnel and the media have played a great role even without receiving any salary or half of the salary.
Senior journalist Professor P Kharel emphasizes “media should keep alive at this time and should include within the code of conduct of journalism without any discrimination. In foreign countries, there is a separate body for monitoring media and their activities. It is offending situation if the media claimed a person dead but who is alive and a person contracted with coronavirus but who is not infected. Therefore, press council should monitor and investigate without discriminating large or small media houses, align with specific political parties and so on.
He opines “action should be taken for those who publishes false news, theoretically, but it should not be shut down”. Before closing any media organization special consideration should be provided for them. If there is a mistake, time should be given for necessary corrections. If the government itself is doing errors many times, in these cases, line ministers were not removed while in the constitution press freedom has been given. JournalistsKharel questions “What is press council doing if news/story becomes false written by officials and members?