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Free Flow of Information Indispensable for Effective Response to Corona Crisis; Ensure Health and Professional Protection of Media workers: TIB

Free flow of information is indispensable for effective response to Corona-Covid19 crisis, says Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), and calls upon media owners and the Government to ensure proper health safety and professional protection including regular salaries and benefits of the media professionals. It also proposed a provision of special risk incentives, especially frontline reporters.   
In a statement issued on 9 April to the media, Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB said, “free flow of information is indispensable for effective response to the national crisis created by Corona-Covid19 crisis. It is clear that no country in the world had adequate preparation of capacity to prevent and control the virus. It is only natural that there will be deficits and weaknesses in managing the crisis. Therefore, no hiding of information nor any predicament to its disclosure, but free and unrestricted flow of information must be ensured at higher than normal level. To that end, we call upon the media houses and the Government to ensure that the reporters and other media professionals must be provided fullest possible health safety and professional protection, especially regular salaries and benefits including appropriate risk incentives”. 
TIB says, media workers are taking worst possible health risks to discharge their professional duties to ensure people’s access to information as well as creating public awareness. Many frontline reporters and other media professionals are working without even minimum level of security which is as risky for themselves as for community infection. Considering the space and nature of their work, infection of one media person may have a chain effect of infection of severe nature. At least one such case of infection of a reporter has forced home quarantine for over fifty of his colleagues. In this context TIB is calling for highest possible types of health safety measures for media persons.
Some media houses have introduced protection measures like roster duties on weekly basis, provision of musk and hand sanitizers, measuring body temperature at office entrance, application of disinfectant in workplace and partial work from home. Commending such initiatives, Iftekharuzzaman said that these were however neither enough nor applicable for all, and added that media owners must ensure that their employees do not expose themselves to health risks while discharging professional duties. Use of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) should be made mandatory for frontline media persons and media houses must provide the same. Transportation facilities from home to workplace and back by properly equipped vehicles should be ensured.   
Referring to long-nourished problem in the sector, the statement further said, “in most cases media persons are not provided any benefits other than salaries like provident fund, gratuity or health insurance. Many of them are not even paid salaries regularly. Ironically the media houses have been tactfully depriving the newspersons of their due entitlements for long. Quite some time before the Corona crisis, arbitrary lay-offs have been reported on the pretext of cost reduction. The same has happened even during the present crisis in at least one TV channel. Some channels do not also pay regular salaries. This is disappointing for a sector where most of the entities are owned by rich and powerful corporate houses. The current crisis has opened an opportunity for them to demonstrate that they represent responsible corporate behaviour. They can do so by providing risk incentives in addition to mandatorily ensuring health safety, professional protection and regular salaries and benefits”.                     
“Media should be immediately recognized as essential public service, and the special provision made by the Government of low-interest loan for the export-oriented sector to ensure uninterrupted payment of salaries and benefits of workers should be made applicable for media sector too. At the same time the Newspaper Owners Association, Association of Television Channel Owners, Editors’ Guild and various associations and unions of journalists should demonstrate professional integrity to be able to work together to cope with the challenges faced by the media persons in the current extraordinary crisis situation”, Iftekharuzzaman concluded.
 
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