At a time when people need credible information, coronavirus has upended Bangladesh’s media industry, hitting hard its revenue generation and claiming the lives of a good number of journalists and infecting many more.
Senior journalists said the media industry in Bangladesh neither lost so many workers within such a short span of time nor faced such a tough challenge any time before the Covid-19’s onslaught.
As the coronavirus is devastating the lives and livelihoods of journalists and putting the existence of many media outlets at risk, they said the government should announce a stimulus package or form a special fund for the sector like RMG and others to keep it afloat.
According to ‘Our Media, Our Rights’, a social media-based journalist group, at least 16 media workers succumbed to coronavirus while 10 died with its symptoms in the country as of August 5. Owner of the Daily Jugantar Nurul Islam Babul also lost his battle to Covid-19 on July 13.
Besides, 697 journalists and media employees of 162 national and local media houses have been infected with the deadly virus across the country during the period.
Of them, 391 have so far recovered fully.
Humayun Kabir Khokon, 46, city editor of the Bangla daily Somoyer Alo is the first journalist died of the virus on April 28.
The 15 other media works lost lives after being infected with the virus include Kamal Lohani, NTV’s head of programmes Mostafa Kamal Syed, Financial Express’ news editor Abdullah M Hasan, Cox’s Bazar Correspondent Abdul Monayem Khan, Bogura-based Dainik Uttarkon’s editor Mozammel Haque, Dainik Bhorer Dak’s Chandina correspondent Golam Mostafa, Jashore-based Dainik Nawapara’s managing editor Belal Hossain, Bogura-based Hatiar’s executive editor Saiduzzaman, weekly Ajker Surjadoy editor Khandaker Mozammel Huq, weekly Uttamasha editor Khandaker Ekramul Haq, Gopalganj-based fortnightly Moksudpur’s reporter M Omar Ali, Jhenaidah Press Club ex-general secretary Hafizur Rahaman, Mymensingh-based Daily Jahan editor Rebeka Yesmin, ATN Bangla’s senior official Ahsan Habib and Dainik Jababdihi’s circulation manager Sheikh Bariuzzaman.
Besides, 14 members of the Jatiya Press Club died of various diseases from March 10-July 29, said its joint general secretary Mainul Alam.
They are Kazi Shamsul Huda (July 29), Fazlun Nazima Khan (July 28), Abdullah M Hasan (July 17), AKM Rashid Un Nabi Babu (July 9), DP Barua (July 8), Faruk Quazi (July 3), Khandaker Mozammel Huq (June 29), Masuk Chowdhury (June 24), Jahangir Hossain, associate member (June 6), Aslam Rahman (May 7), journalist Khandaker Mohitul Islam (April 29), Abu Zafar Panna (April17), Roushanuzzaman (April 8) and Ahsan Hamid, associate member (March 10).
Talking to UNB, Our Media, Our Rights coordinator Ahammad Foyez said the number of corona fatalities and infections among journalists in Bangladesh is much higher than in other countries. “We’re in touch with international bodies that work over rights of journalists. As per their information, only Peru has more corona casualties among journalists than that of Bangladesh.”
Besides, he said, over 600 journalists in the county lost their jobs since the coronavirus hit the country while at least 4,000 journalists have suffered financial losses in many ways during the period.
Contacted, Prime Minister’s former information affairs adviser Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury said journalists are not legging behind in any way from the frontline professionals like health workers and law enforcers in the fight against coronavirus.
“At this critical time of pandemic, people need authentic information and messages from the media to tackle the situation. Alongside providing the right information, media are educating people and making them aware of the virus by risking their lives. But, unfortunately, the media is not getting proper attention of the state. Doctors and law enforcers are receiving many state facilities and money for treatment if they get infected and compensation if they die, but journalists are ignored,” he said.
Iqbal Sobhan, also editor of The Daily Observer, said the family members of those journalists died of corona are not getting any finical assistance from the state.
He said corona is not only taking its toll on the health and lives of journalists but also on their livelihoods. “Many of our journalists have become jobless while many media houses have been shut and some are set to be closed.”
“Almost all media outlets are struggling due to fall in their revenues. The media industry is in dire straits and face a near-extinction crisis as the pandemic hit it hard. Even, media organizations are not getting the outstanding bills of advertisements of different government institutions. These bills should be cleared on an emergency basis,” Iqbal Sobhan said.
He said the government should come forward to help the media survive by taking some steps. “RMG owners are getting loans with only a two-percent interest rate to give the salaries of their workers. Why mainstream media owners won’t get this facility to pay the salaries of their journalists. A special fund can be created for helping the media recognising our contributions to the country and society.”
Contacted, National Press Club President Saiful Alam said journalists are getting infected while gathering information and many of them have already succumbed to infections of the virus.
Besides, he said, the fallout of the coronavirus hit the industry badly as both the circulation and advertainment marked a sharp fall. “Some media houses have been shut, while many terminated their workers and some are facing difficulties in giving salaries. Some other have stopped printing newspapers and many others have cut down the number of their pages to cope with the situation.”
Saiful Alam, also editor of the daily Jugantor, said “It’s a very critical time for the media industry as the media never faced such a crisis in the past. We don’t know when and how we’ll overcome it.”
He said it is regrettable that the government has announced stimulus packages for different sectors, but the media remained ignored. “The government has only given small finical assistance to a few journalists. But it has no step to protect the existence of the media industry.”
The Press Club president said the government should immediately announce a package for the media industry. “It can provide the media owners soft loan to run their outlets.”
“A coordinated initiative is needed to keep the media houses functional and ensure the regular salaries of journalists. I think, the information and finance ministries should sit with the representatives of the owners of newspapers and television channels, and journalist bodies, including BFUJ and DUJ, to work out a framework to save the struggling media industry in the interest of the country and society,” Saiful Alam observed.