Training and safety
When the global pandemic broke out, many media workers were forced to continue reporting from the front line with little or no information about the virus, proper training or equipment. Overnight, hundreds of thousands of journalists were risking their lives to continue informing people about the virus in a moment when, paradoxically, access to accurate and quality information was saving lives.
While many employers and governments ignored journalists’ status as essential workers, unions played a key role in putting journalists’ physical and psychological safety first.
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) in Indonesia, published a Safety Protocol and helped to provide all its members with safety material such as masks and hand sanitizersAPESPJS in PalestineJUADN in Greece, taking action to provide key safety equipment and health insurances for media workers.
Training media workers to protect themselves from the virus has also been fundamental to saving lives. For example, Somalia with one of the weakest health systems in the world, has experienced high numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The NUSOJ and IOM COVID-19 reporting handbook for Somali journalists provided key information about how journalists can minimise chances of contracting Covid.
Many unions launched their own safety protocols while calling on the national authorities to make sure that media employers were guaranteeing Covid-safe newsrooms. Unfortunately, this has not been always the case. For example, in some newsrooms in Pakistan, employers forced workers to continue working and going to the newsroom after testing positive, putting themselves and the rest of the staff at serious risk of infection.
While fighting the health crisis was the first priority of the pandemic, trade unions also had to rapidly deal with the social and in many cases humanitarian crisis suffered by their members.
Once again, union solidarity made a difference to help the most vulnerable journalists, especially those who work as freelancers and had no social benefits, to move forward.
There have been many gestures of solidarity from trade unions, even in those countries where the pandemic situation was critical and out of control. The KUJ in Kenya, mobilized resources to help those most in need. APES in El Salvador, delivered basic food baskets to journalists working for small local newspapers suffering the hardest part of the crisis.
“APES help came at the right time.They brought us food, they gave us biosafety equipment that was extremely difficult to find by that timeand that's how we were able to move forward” said Salvadorian journalist Yaneth Estrada, journalist for Diario Co Latino, in a video recorded for the IFJ.
Journalists are essential workers and we must be treated as such
While it remains difficult to determine the exact number of media workers who have died from the virus worldwide and whether they have been infected while working or somewhere else, it’s easy to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of journalists have risked their lives informing the public during the pandemic. That is to say: they are essential workers and should be treated as such within the ongoing vaccination campaigns.
This has been widely understood by the IFJ affiliates, who have made significant gains to push the authorities to recognize media workers’ role and their exposure to the virus while reporting. The IJS in Iraq managed to get journalists put on the list of priority groups who are being vaccinated now. The same success was recorded in Uganda, Kenya, Somalia and in some regions in Brazil.
IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “Today our thoughts go out to all the journalists killed by Covid-19, their families, friends and colleagues. Also with all our affiliates, who have fought to protect the health and lives of their members even in the most difficult situations. It is imperative that governments act and include journalists in the priority vaccination groups to prevent further deaths in our profession."