By Yemisi Bamgbose
This write-up became imperative as a result of growing number of casualties that have been recorded among media practitioners globally. As at May 5, 2020, the Geneva based Press Emblem Campaign a non profit organisation seeking for press freedom has reported 64 deaths of Journalists/Broadcasters in 24 countries since the beginning of Covid-19. Certainly the figure is higher than that because only the deaths of known journalists have been announced.
The organisation has reported that in some countries deaths related to Covid-19 are simply hidden. That is a fact judging by what is happening in Nigeria. Yobe,Bauchij and Kano states are examples of hidden facts. I know of a state in Nigeria where four staff of Radio and Television stations have died courtesy of Covid-19 pandemic. Among the popular journalists that have died as a result of the virus were Zimbabwean Broadcaster Zororo Makanba, Maria Mercader of CBS in United States, Mahmoud Abujabal in Egypt, Anthony Causi, a known sports photographer in US among others. Besides the 64 Journalists known to have been killed by this plague, several others have tested positive and they are in isolation centres.
A report from Mumbai, India indicated that 53 Journalists tested positive for corona virus, majority belonging to a Television news channel.Those known so far in Nigeria are those working in the broadcast media. In the course of writing this piece, I decided to monitor news telecast of some notable television stations in Nigeria.
This is because the majority of the media workers that have tested positive for corona virus across the globe are from the broadcast sector of the media. My observation in 3 days of news report monitored from 5 selected TV stations in Nigeria informed the title of this article – **That microphone may lead you to isolation centre* Monday, 11 and Tuesday 12th May, 2020 AIT and OGTV news at 8pm,NTA and TVC 9pm news and Channels’10pm news were monitored. Wednesday May 13, six TV stations were monitored .What I saw was dangerous to the health of media workers most especially in the spread of Covid-19.
On AIT news of Monday 11th May, out of the four people interviewed in Port Harcourt in respect of hotel demolition,only one interviewee covered his mouth with a mask. Others spoke unprotected to the microphone. Similarly on Tuesday, May 12 ,all those that were interviewed concerning the Edo election spoke directly to the microphone without using a mask. Even the FCT minister pulled down his face mask to speak directly to different media houses’ microphones placed before him as shown on AIT 8 pm news of Monday May 11.
In similar vein many of those that spoke to the TVC reporter in Ado-Ekiti did not put on their face masks whereas the State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi put on the mask while granting a press interview as reported in the 9pm TVC news of Tuesday,May 12.
Same was observed of the Sokoto state official that briefed the press on Covid 19. He pulled down his face mask. Also the man that was arrested in Lagos for violating the lockdown order and interviewed by TVC reporter as well as all the legal practitioners that were interviewed concerning Bayelsa PDP elections at the Appeal Court were speaking without the mask covering their mouths.
CHANNELS TV Channels’ 10 pm news,the interviewee sitting on Okada responded to the reporter’s question on the lockdown in Lagos without covering his mouth.
OGTV news of Tuesday,May 12,all that spoke at the burial of the late drama artist Pa Odumosu did not use face masks.The news report on the progress of IjebuOde-Epe road transmitted on Wednesday May 13, showed that 3 of the people interviewed spoke directly to the microphone without face masks.
LTV news of Wednesday May 13,all except one of the people that spoke with the reporters that covered Covid-19 palliative as well as lockdown as it affects motor parks in Lagos did not use face masks or they pull it down while talking to the microphone.
NTA NETWORK NEWS* The story was not different in NTA.Someof those that spoke to NTA reporters did not use face masks or they pulled it down at the point of being interviewed.NTA network news of Tuesday reported the Taraba communal crisis among others.
The Rev.Father and the woman interviewed did not put on any face masks. Ditto was the official of the ministry of power that granted interview as reported on the network news .Same happened Wednesday 13th May in the report from Ilorin in which people reacted to the appointment of Professor Gambari as the Chief of Staff to the President. The first 2 people interviewed did not use face mask.These are just few examples of what I observed.
Media men should know that the virus can be spread through the microphone, midget and any recording gadgets that is infected by any asymptomatic carrier that is interviewed. All members of the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 have been addressing the press and granting interviews with their face masks
.The report from Press Emblem Campaign says many of the Journalists that tested positive are asymptomatic. Journalists should also recognise the fact that there are many asymptomatic carriers in town and must therefore insist that anyone to be interviewed must put on his or her face masks.
UNICEF has designed some safety guidelines for Journalists and media houses during this pandemic .It is recommended that a reporter or interviewer should keep at least 6ft away from the interviewee;the equipment including microphone, camera and other electronic news gathering equipment must be disinfected regularly.
The studio should be disinfected at least twice a day. UNICEF says ” On your return from reporting remove your clothes immediately and take a bath.Wash your clothes in hot water. Keep one pairs of outdoor shoes that you remove at your door when you get home. Disinfect your belongings like purses, comb, keychain, notebook pen, etc.Those using the public transport must use sanitizer as soon as you get off the vehicle.
According to Dr Jamal Suleiman,an infectious disease specialist at the Emilio Ribas Institute, Sao Paulo a reporter should wear a surgical mask and discard after 2hrs.
That may not be practicable in Nigeria but media practitioners must have at the back of their minds that they have responsibilities towards themselves and their families as well as their colleagues.
Dr.Delu Ogunade of blessed memory told us in a Mass Communication class at the University of Lagos in the early 90s that the best story a Journalist can write is the one he writes while alive.
The responsibility of the journalist is to cover news and not to become the news. If adequate care is not taken, that microphone will drag you to isolation centre.
Dr Yemisi Bamgbose is a veteran broadcasters and writes this piece from Abeokuta, Ogun State Capital