by Nadeem Qadir
On 03 May I was surprised to see newspapers of the day in front of my door. Oh! I thought great as this one example of our “new normal,” which put my mind in a swing.
For over two months the vendor was off his job and thus there was no delivery of newspapers, without which my day would not begin. Then, why only surprise and no excitement with it?
I remember the last time when the vendor told me he was leaving for his village home because of COVID-19 holiday, I was disappointed and brooded over how my day will start with the 12-page broadsheet newspapers.
The first one-week, I remember, was very uncomfortable along with the panic of the invisible enemy named COVID-19, and I had difficulty in enjoying my morning tea.
After a week I started the day with BBC or CNN or NDTV to catch up with some developing stories at that point of time.
Then onto online news portals to keep me updated.
Before that the Newspaper Owners Association of Bangladesh (NOAB) repeatedly appealed to their readers that coronavirus cannot be communicated by newspapers and they should continue to subscribe to their choice.
The reason given for safety was the chemicals used to print the newspapers.
At least one publication wrapped its newspaper in poly bags with a note ensuring safety.
However, nothing could convince the subscribers and with most vendors off from their jobs, the door to door delivery came to a standstill.
Newspapers quickly went on an emergency strategy with lessening the number of pages, but continued with minimum publications for government and private offices as well as advertisers.
This, at least for some, brought about multifaceted changes.
Some concentrated on their online versions and stopped all print versions, while others chose to go online permanently.
Some held up wages of their staffs reasoning lack of collection, but how these people would survive had sadly lesser importance.
Everyone works for a living and if their wages are held up then it can be a disaster for many of those who work for the newspapers. Some went on trimming staffs at a crisis time.
One colleague told me that he was surviving on just rice and lentil as his funds have run out, but his newspaper had held up wages for two months.
Thus, it brings into question about the survival of the people in media where such incidents took place and the information minister had appealed against such moves. But, it went unheeded.
Blatantly unheeded was the government order “Stay Home, Stay Safe” and instead staffs who could do their job from homes were forced to report daily.
In one case, at least, threats of salary cut or even firing were made by one major Dhaka publication if one had requested to work from home!
One wonders why putting people’s life in risk is ignored just to satisfy the wish of individuals or top brasses of the company. Plus 55 aged people were among them and no mercy!
Most others had opted to allow their staffers to work from home unless needed. That is humanity and being sensible.
Thus laws should be adopted to ensure professional journalism, including the choice of funders, publishers and editors, along with the compulsion of paying wages on time as it has become normal these days to hold or non-payment of wages.
Those who defy should stand to lose their license as in many cases publications are used as a weapon of power, more than quality journalism.
The laws should be applicable for television, radio and online portals, because similar experiences were reported from such organisations.
Thus crisis of COVID-19 has brought forward few issues that require serious attention by the government and help the media people.
A crisis fund must be created immediately for now and for all future situations where funding wages becomes a shameful issue.
The discussions in the world media focussed on the fate of daily newspapers after the invasion of COVID-19.
Many predicted that the days of daily newspapers are numbered as this health crisis has introduced people to online news or entertainment portals, YouTube and Television.
With vendors back to their jobs, one has to wait and see how many subscribers still want newspaper or dump them basically scared of coronavirus and secondly saving some cash.