Journalists on the receiving end of COVID-19 crisis


November 21, 2020


Journalists on the receiving end of COVID-19 crisis

The Federation of Nepali Journalists. (File photo)

KATHMANDU: “I worked day and night. I sometimes stayed overnight and it sometimes would be 4 in the morning when I reached home after work. I worked without pay.

We faced another disaster after a disaster occurred,” said a journalist Govinda Devkota, who worked for the Annapurna Post Daily.

Devkota is now in protest quitting his job demanding that he be paid his unpaid salaries.

Devkota was transferred from the news editing section to the special bureau of the news collection section at the Daily amidst the pandemic. He was thereafter transferred to Manang around one month later from Kathmandu, the central capital of the country. But he rejected the transfer order due to various reasons.

Financial hardships aside, he faced mental torture when he demanded his salary. “I felt I faced mental torture at the hands of the employer. I have to make ends meet and pay apartment rent. I understood that they were expelling me from the job. So I have demanded my salaries,” he shared.

Manang district where he was transferred lacked resources and branch office of the Daily, making it difficult for the Daily staff to work.

“COVID-19 has become a strong pretext for the employer to fire employees. I was transferred to Manang where the Daily lacks branch office. I worked as a news editor. I have demanded my salaries as per the Labor Act.

But I have yet to get it,” he lamented, adding, “Many district correspondents like me are crying for their salaries, but to no avail so far. For what hope, I had to go to Manang for work? So I decided to quit the job after I would receive my salaries.”

Now he has filed a case at the Press Register Office demanding his salaries.

Devkota is in point. A woman journalist, like many other fellow ones, has similar story to share. “I worked hard. But I did not get my salaries when festivals were around the corner. I have been denied my salaries since three months. I fear being expelled from the job when I protest,” she said. The woman journalist, who works for a reputed newspaper, declined to be named over security reasons.

Madhusudan Bhattarai has similar story to tell. The Kantipur Publications for which he worked asked Bhattarai to stay on an unpaid leave for one month from April 19 citing the coronavirus pandemic. However, he is yet to be retained.

“I worked hard thinking my employer would look after me in problem. But they asked me to stay on an unpaid leave. It is not that an organiषation that has been providing bonus for the past 16 years cannot provide salaries to its employees for one month during the crisis,” he said.

“Workers will get justice. We will wage legal fight for our rights.”

Journalists are on the frontline against the infection. Apart from their expulsion from jobs and denial of salary, they are facing various problems like lack of funds to purchase health safety materials and get tested for the virus. As a result, they are facing financial and mental problems without jobs and ways to make ends meet.

Women journalists have added problems. They have to take care of household chores while discharging their duty as a journalist.

Former President of Media Advocacy Group Babita Basnet said women journalists were facing hard time to discharge their duty due to various reasons. “Women journalists have been affected as they feel that it is their responsibility to carry out household chores themselves to be ready for their duty. They are in mental tension when they step outside for duty amid the infection,” she shared, adding that those who are good at multimedia can survive the pandemic.

According to data with the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), an umbrella organization for working journalists, so far 575 working journalists have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Likewise, 700 others have been denied salaries.

Journalists who are on the frontline against this virus have been at risk of contracting the infection. So far 450 working journalists have contracted the virus and five others have died from it.

Chairperson of the FNJ Govinda Acharya said COVID-19 has affected media houses and media-persons the most. “Working journalists are forced into financial and mental tension under the pretext of COVID-19.

Journalists on duty on the ground have been affected the most by the infection. Infection rate among them is also high,” he said.

In a bid to get justice, journalists have taken to the streets. The FNJ has launched protests so as to create pressure on media owners to retain working journalists and clear dues they have to get. “We have been creating pressure on owners of media houses through protests on a daily basis. The FNJ will fight legal battle for justice to working journalists,” said Acharya.

The FNJ has been providing foodstuff and health supplies to the journalists in food crisis due to the infection, he said.

Following the complaints of working journalists being denied salaries and wages set by the government-formed Minimum Wages Fixation Committee (MWFC), the government has been studying the matter. The Committee has been exerting pressure on the owners of media houses to provide regular and minimum wages set by the Committee to working journalists.

“A study is being carried out on the COVID-19 impact on media. There are many complaints. There were problems yesterday. The infection has added to them. There is a tendency to make COVID-19 an excuse when it comes to the rights of working journalists,” said Rajendra Aryal, Chairperson of the MWFC.

In relation to complaints regarding working journalists being denied salaries and set wages, a letter has been sent to the media houses in question and discussions were underway, he said. The working journalists who are denied justice can seek legal remedy from the Press Registrar, the last stop to look after complaints relating to injustice done to working journalists.

The government has set minimum Rs 24,500 in wages a month to working journalists. However, they have been crying for it.

In his bid to help provide justice to them, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Parbat Gurung urged media owners to provide minimum wages to working journalists. “I urge the media houses concerned to provide at least minimum wages set as per laws to all working journalists during this crisis.”