The alarmingly increasing rate of corona infections in recent weeks across the country has dealt a devastating blow to the journalist community in Chattogram, with approximately 100 journalists of the port city already infected by the deadly virus and many losing their near and dear ones.
Like the other front line workers of the ongoing pandemic, Chattogram journalists have also been affected deeply since the second wave of the pandemic started wrecking havoc on Bangladesh from the last month. In the last 15 days, at least 10 journalists in Chittagong have been infected, needless to say, covering news of the pandemic. Among them, Hasan Akbar, chief reporter of the Daily Azadi, is in critical condition. He has already lost his mother two weeks ago after being infected by the virus.
Journalists are rushing to collect news every day, taking death risks not only of themselves but also of their family members, said Iftekhar Faisal, publicity and publication secretary of the Chattogram Union of Journalists (CUJ).
"Around 35 to 40 journalists were infected in the first three months of the corona outbreak," he said, adding that according to his estimate, the number of infected journalists has now exceeded 100.
Debabrata Roy serves at Daily Banik Barta as a staff reporter. He used to go pout every day for covering news. His mother also lived with him. On 6 April, she died after suddenly being infected by the virus. Debabrata lost his father at the age of 12; since then he used to live with his mother and a younger sister. His mother was his whole world.
"As I had to go out every day, and as I suffered from some mild corona symptoms before my mother was infected. I think, she was infected from me," said the journalist.
Almost in the same way, Nurul Islam, 75 years old father of Daily Jugantor's Senior Reporter Mizanul Islam, died of Covid on 2 April. Mizanul was diagnosed positive for coronavirus on 17 March.
He said, "Baba (father) did not go out of home usually. After I was diagnosed positive, baba cried a lot for me, whereas I failed to save baba. He most probably was infected from me."
Mizanul's 1-year-old daughter had to be admitted to hospital with breathing problems.
NTV cameraman Enam Haider also lost his mother in the pandemic.
"Even though we write thousands of words every day to inform the people about truth and reality, even though we are dealers of language, we have no words left to pay condolences to our fellow journalists who have lost their near and dear ones in this difficult time of the corona epidemic," said Chattogram Press Club General Secretary Chowdhury Farid.
He said putting themselves and their family members in the face of death, only to convey news to the countrymen, they have set up a perfect example of professionalism and humanity."
Channel 24 Chattogram bureau chief Kamal Parvez said, "Working during corona pandemic is a difficult challenge for TV channel journalists. Majority of the print and online media journalists get the opportunity to work virtually from home; but, in most cases, it is not possible for TV channel workers. As a result, infection rate among TV journalists is more than that of their print and online portal counterparts."
Among daily newspapers, seven newsmen of Dainik Prothom Alo, four of Daily Jugantar, two from both of Daily Samakal and Amader Somoy, one from Kaler Kantho, Bangladesh Pratidin, Ajker Patrika, Daily Sun and The Business Standard each, have been infected by the virus.
Moreover, among the port city's local dailies, five journalists from Daily Azadi, three from Purbodesh and one from Daily Purbokon have been infected by the deadly virus that have turned the world upside down since the beginning of the pandemic in Chinese city of Uhan in January 2020, affecting all the countries of the world.
Among the TV channels, seven from Channel 24, four from Independent TV, two from Jamuna TV, one from Channel i, two from ETV, two from Ekattor TV, there from Somoy TV, two from Machhranga TV, two from GTV and one journalist from News24 have been infected.
Among different online news portals, three from Chattogram Pratidin, two each from C-Voice and Mahanagar and one each from Banglanews, UNB and Joynews have been infected so far by the virus.
Apart from this, there are at least 50 other journalists who continued their duty after suffering from various symptoms of corona.
Biswajit Chowdhury, joint editor of the daily Prothom Alo, said, "Seven of us, including four reporters, two photojournalists and one copy editor have been affected by corona. No matter whatever precautions are being taken, nothing is being able to save the reporters or cameramen from being infected."
Asked what to do to prevent the virus infection of journalists, Kamal Parvez said, "It is important to work to reduce the infection rate of journalists or find alternative ways to work. It is very important to increase digital support, reduce going outside, and provide adequate protective gears."
No risk allowance despite facing corona challenge
Ignoring the various pressures and adversities in the pandemic, the country's journalists continue to make important contributions to ensuring the free flow of information. But even though the various frontline fighters, including doctors, have received risk allowances to deal with the epidemic, the country's journalists are out of the list of allowance; rather they are facing various problems including layoffs, jobs without salary and salary reduction.
General Secretary of Chattogram Union of Journalists (CUJ) said, "The issue of health protection has been completely ignored in the newspaper houses. That is why journalists who do not work in the field have also been infected. In this all-out strict lockdown, while others are staying at home to save lives, journalists are continuing professional responsibilities taking risk of life. But neither their risk allowance nor their protection issue is being considered.
Latifa Ansari Runa, general secretary of the TV Journalists' Association, said, "Journalists who are being infected are being provided with sick leave only. They get no other facility or support from their respective organisations. Journalists should be given risk allowance."