Like a cricket ball hit for a six, which sometimes hits an unsuspecting spectator, the media as an involved bystander has received a hard knock from the coronavirus pandemic.
While the print media is facing a sustained campaign by some claiming that newspapers could be infected with the virus and therefore should be boycotted, the broadcast media is finding it difficult to maintain social distancing as the ground crew on duty is normally made of at least four people.
Print media managements, already in trouble over falling revenues in a recessionary economy and stagnant circulation, now realise that social media campaigns are targeting newspapers claiming that they are not safe as they are handled by several people on the way to a reader’s home.
The Times of India and Deccan Herald newspapers are among those who are countering it by uploading videos that show the complete mechanisation of the printing and packaging process. Furthermore, disinfectants are sprayed on the newspapers bundles before they are sent out for circulation.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has specifically put out an advisory that debunks the claim of infection via packages. The WHO makes it clear that the chances of packages (of all kind) that come through various channels being infected are negligible.
The challenge to media comes at a time when the profession of journalism itself is being sought to be de-legitimised by the political class, making the task of a reporter on the field that much more tougher.
That apart, the advent of social media and its cynical use by the political class to promote its own agenda by constantly running down mainline media has done immense disservice to the journalistic community.
Ironically, the coronavirus pandemic has now forced the political class to turn to the same industry which it has been abusing all these years.
In pre-independence and post formative days of the nation, journalists in India were considered doing a noble profession. Their job was seen as a public service. Over the years, the profession has turned commercial, taking the sheen off journalism.
The advent of social media has further dealt a deadly blow to mainstream journalism, eviscerating it of public sympathy. The situation, however, may not last when viewers and news consumers discover there is much more to media than how the politicians would like them to see it.
Television news, for instance, is the outcome of a collective effort. Though viewers see the anchor reading the news and moderating discussions, behind them are large teams that painstakingly put together news and talk shows.
Television involves journalists working in the newsroom, edit suits, PCR (production control rooms), studios, online graphics stations, audio recording booths, and those who run all these functions necessarily need to come to office.
Besides, journalists in a television newsroom require plenty of technical support to keep the various hardware and software going. Then there are allied staff like make-up artists and grooming personnel who are required to be in the office.
Reporters and camera personnel functioning from news bureaus form the external link to a news room. They are most vulnerable as they have to be physically present at the spot to capture the fast developing events.
Irrespective of whether it is a pandemic or not, they have to report 24×7 from hotspots along with live paraphernalia that includes live outdoor broadcast vans etc.
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In short, the work from home (WFH) concept is not feasible for television journalists.
Considering the current coronavirus-mandated requirement that people maintain social distance and work from home, the ongoing pandemic has forced television channel managements to do some brainstorming.
Advent of powerful mobile camera and live equipment available on backpacks have made news gathering simpler, but broadcast from outside the traditional television station still remains a challenge.
Many stations are therefore attempting “broadcast from home” where a journalist/ anchor presents news from his/her apartment by getting a live link from the office. But these are still early days and many journalists are struggling to cope with the developing situation.
Besides the inherent nature of the work, their presence in the place of action places them under pressure from families who would like them to avoid any situation of danger.
Notwithstanding these conflicting demands, reporters necessarily have to walk on all these egg shells to fulfill their professional responsibility today.