Nepal’s journalists are also on the frontlines

In the past week, two photojournalists and several reporters at a digital news portal have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The group Photo Journalists Nepal is organising PCR tests for all its members in the coming weeks.    

Being on-site on the frontlines is also exerting a mental strain on journalists across the country as they have the constant fear of exposure and transmitting to elderly family members at home. They are also worried about losing their jobs, as media companies start laying off staff.

This in turn is affecting the quality and quantity of news delivered by agencies. On the other hand, the financial fragility of media companies also affects their independence as they come to depend more on government support or advertising revenue.  

A nation-wide survey carried out by the Nepal Press Institute and the University of Bournemouth found a rise in mental strain complaints among Nepali journalists. The poll was conducted between 10-24 July, and involved 1,134 journalists from all seven provinces. 

Of those surveyed, 83% said they worried about increased risk of infection, 75% said they feared the situation would get worse – as it did in the subsequent weeks after the survey was conducted. And 62% reported personal discomfort, and 28% were even losing sleep.

Aside from worry about their health, reporters also said the uncertainty about their jobs and not getting salary on time was also causing mental stress. As many as 74% of the journalists polled said they had already suffered financially from the crisis, while 6.3% lost their jobs altogether, while 38% had salary cuts. These numbers are now higher because several more publications have shut down in the past month.  

Even in July, the survey already showed that mental health was becoming a problem among frontline media practitioners. A quarter of those polled reported experiencing bouts of depression or frustration, and 60% constantly worried about their ability to support their families.   

Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada has proposed an aid package for cash-strapped journalists through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, and discussions with media support organisations are said to be underway.   

Print publications have been particularly affected by the pandemic, with 55% journalists reporting a drop in the number of pages in their outlets, while 48% said there was a reduction in frequency of their editions. Many news agencies have also been forced to go online only, even as readership migrates from print to online sites and internet coverage grows.

The survey reported a drop in the quality of audio and visual news broadcasts, as 20% of journalists felt they were spending less time doing their reporting or editing work.

UPDATE 28 August: The Federation of Nepalese Journalists revealed that 71 media persons across Nepal have tested positive. Of them,  the most (27) are in Province 2.

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