One Year After Zororo Makamba’s Death, Journalists Remain Exposed To COVID-19 Infection Risk

JOURNALISTS in Zimbabwe have been declared  front-line workers owing to their leading role in disseminating factual information. Exactly a year ago on this day, March 23, 2020, COVID-19 claimed its first victim, and sad enough, the first casualty was from within the media ranks, Zororo Makamba.

By Patricia Mashiri

Since March 2020 to date, so many lives have been lost to the dreaded coronavirus and amongst those who died were Journalists from both the public and private media. Besides Zoro, some of the Journalists who succumbed to COVID-19 in Zimbabwe include Janet Munyaka from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), Foster Dongozi, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) Secretary General, Charles Kawadza former ZBC.

According to a Geveva based organisation, the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) more than  600 journalists have died from COVID-19 in 59 countries in 2020 over a period of 10 months. In Zimbabwe, through the intervention of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe and the ZUJ, a total 2000 local Journalist are now targeted for inoculation against the COVID-19. However, only a few have been vaccinated to date.

Medical and health experts have warned that vaccination alone was not the magic bullet prevention method against the COVID-19 and people would need more than just one prevention method. For Journalists in Zimbabwe, access to COVID-19 prevention equipment and measures remains a far fetched dream despite the virus having decimated the media ranks since it was reported in the country 12 months ago.

In an interview with HealthTimes Mlondolozi Ndhlovu, a Freelance journalist said working as a journalist in Zimbabwe under the prevailing health pandemic was no walk in the park as one had juggle between staying safe and getting a story for the editors with minimal protection.

It’s been very difficult as a journalist to work around COVID-19 as a journalist. For the first time, some were told to work from home and you know how difficult it is to work without data. As we shifted to using zoom and other applications like Skype, we required huge amounts of data. I think the government should come up with a recovery plan for the media to assist freelance journalist and those that lost their jobs so that they will be able to pick up their lives.

“As for the journalist associations I think they should be capacity building among journalists so that they are able to respond to the new changing dynamics journalist of 2000 or of 1999 that it’s no longer the 2021 journalist so journalists need to be capacitated with the no how of how to use modern technologies,” Ndhlovu said.

He added that at times Journalists were exposed to COVID-19 in their line of duty owing to bad venue choices for certain events. For example he said some government officials and organizations  hold briefings inside closed doors and poorly ventilated buildings. He added that having press briefings outdoors and open spaces could go a long way in minimizing infection among Journalist.

Phyllis Mbanje, a senior reporter with the NewsDay said  the pandemic came with many Journalists losing their jobs during the lockdown period and those who remained at their workstations were exposed to the virus as they had to work extra hard to cover the gaps that had been left.

“Most newsrooms sacrificed female journalists and many worked from home which meant that we had limited support in terms of Wifi and airtime. Initially because we all were learning about this novel disease we struggled to articulate issues and coupled with fear of contracting the disease, it was not easy. Journalists just like health workers continue to report for duty exposing themselves on a daily basis. Lack of adequate people meant that many were exposed and sadly some passed away.

“Work ethics have shifted and journalists now rely on more virtual events and desktop research rather than the actual physical interaction with sources. Even though the vaccine is being rolled out, we are still not safe and being on the ground to capture news as it happens has become a huge potential risk. As a health reporter its worse because you cover events in hospitals and other hot spots,” Mbanje said.

Meanwhile, Nqaba Matshazi, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), regional campaigns coordinator said journalist stand a greater chance of contracting the virus as they are always interacting with people which includes their news sources.  He however added that, they are working closely with the government to ensure journalists’ safety is prioritised at government level.

“Journalists are interacting with people all over the country these include sources, so their risk is heightened, it is important that the government considers this. We are expecting to meet half way at least to put journalist as essential workers we had to go to court around this time last year to have journalist declared essential workers so that they would continue with their job. Early this year we wrote to the government to say can you make journalist front-line workers put them in the priority list to receive vaccines from the government which is now happening,” Matshazi said.

Matshazi added that more which is needs to be done to ensure Journalists are protected   and they are able to carry out their duties in a safe environment.

“There is more which is needed in terms of provisions of Protective Personal Equipment (PPEs) as well as  communication so that we are aware of the dangers, we can never communicate enough about the dangers of the disease, they have to continue doing it reminding people and the communication has to be effective. Last year we distributed PPEs to journalists which include masks, sanitizers and overalls,” he said.

The uptake of the Sinopharm vaccine has been generally low amongst journalist due to lack of information about the vaccines. This leaves journalist more exposed to the pandemic.

“I think the communication is very poor from the government, it’s inconsistent, there is no constant messaging on COVID-19, for example if you look for the information from the government there were three different figures that were presented by our government in terms of how many vaccines had come. There is vaccine hesitance from the government and it is the one  which feeds into skeptism from the public. The government has taken advantage of the pandemic to clamp down on freedom of expression, access to information and the media.

“I think last year was one of the worst years in terms of media violence; we need to continue engaging the government on issues about journalists’ safety and security. In January this year we wrote to the government pleading with them to make ensure that journalists are safe, are protected and allowed to carry out their duties.

“A couple of weeks ago our advocacy committee in Bulawayo held a meeting with the Police commanders in that city where they discussed the issues of safety and security so what we are doing is continuing hammering the government that journalists are not the enemy, journalism is not a crime allow them to continue their job so that Zimbabweans can have access to information which they can use to make informed decisions about their right to life and health,” Matshazi said.

Even though Zimbabwean Journalists have been declared essential workers, a lot more still needs to be done to ensure their safety is guaranteed during pandemic times.

 

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