WATCH: Journalists, the forgotten COVID-19 front-liners

BY Abigirl Tembo, Features Editor

AS the global figures of people contracting Covid-19 continue to surge, media outlets have been urged to ensure journalists have the necessary protective equipment and access to healthcare.

Though in most cases they are forgotten or sidelined, journalists, like health care workers, are on the frontline facing serious health risks daily as they pursue crucial stories on the Covid-19 pandemic.

The risk is real as some end up being infected while trying to collect reliable and verified information.

Freelance journalist Kudzai Madzivire is among the growing number of journalists who have contracted the virus in the line of duty.

“When I first got to know of my results, I was scared as a lot of things had been peddled on social media in terms of people who are dying. I started thinking that I might die. Most people who have COVID-19 don’t usually require hospitalisation but I ended up being in the hospital because I have underlying conditions. I am diabetic and on insulin plus I also started developing respiratory complications, hence I had to be checked into a hospital.”

African News Agency reporter Jonisayi Maromo who is recovering from the virus reckons being a journalist is among the toughest jobs in face of a pandemic of this magnitude.

“As media workers, we are more exposed than other workers, I remember in the week I got infected I was covering protests in Pretoria at these protests you don’t know who has the virus and who doesn’t we just go in to do our work. It’s our industry we cover a lot of dangerous stories from crime to pandemics but we are willing to deliver the story.”

“As journalists, we are bound to suffer or to get infected in the line of duty more so as reporters who cover people stories every day. I do not think there is much our employers can do to avoid being infected, what the employer can do is to be more active when we get infected because surely COVID-19 can be beaten. After all, I have survived it.”

After spending a week in the hospital, Kudzai admits the road to recovery has not been easy.

” Covid-19 is a disease which requires someone to be strong and to personally have that will to survive. As a country, it needs a collective effort, it needs you and me to be working together so that we can be able to handle the Covid-19. Since it’s a new disease it can not be the government’s responsibility only. It’s everyone’s responsibility no matter your status in society.”

Kudzai might have recovered from the virus but the Budiriro 3 community still shuns him.

“I am scared to walk out of the gate because whenever I get out of the house people start pointing at me, some call the COVID-19 journalist. I think there is a lot that needs to be done in terms of teaching people to avoid stigmatisation.”

Representative unions are of the view that journalists should be treated as front liners and get the necessary support from stakeholders.

“Journalists are frontline responders; journalists are there in the frontline in the trenches of fighting COVID-19 as very critical service providers. Therefore we continue to call on authorities that whenever they make those donations they should remember and ensure that journalists are remembered and are part of that action otherwise our fight against COVID-19 will amount to nothing if we leave a critical sector unprotected and therefore we continue to hammer the fact that journalists need to be protected,” the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists Secretary General Foster Dongozi said.

“There is need obviously to assess and ensure that staff at risk minimise exposure to potentially crowded interviews or even entering public spaces where they can then be put at risk also most important is the use of technologies starting at government level to then say in terms of press conferences these are held virtually and try to minimise the contact or exposure of journalists,” said Merit Munzwembiri the Sports Journalists Association Vice-Chairperson.

According to the Geneva-based Press Emblem campaign, a total of 186 journalists have succumbed to Covid-19 across the globe.

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