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Calls for safety of journalists covering COVID-19 pandemic renewed

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Stakeholders in media have restated the need for the safety of Nigerian journalists covering the COVID-19 pandemic. At a webinar jointly organised by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Institute for Media and Society (IMS) recently, they argued that journalists are frontline workers, hence, the need for them to get adequate information about safety consciousness.

With the theme, ‘Engaging Journalists’ Safety Issues in the COVID-19 Period’, the workshop, which was moderated by Professor Ayobami Ojebode of the Department of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, also stressed the need for the provision of an insurance package for journalists.

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In his opening remarks, Executive Director, IMS, Dr. Akin Akingbulu, noted that the duties of journalists include, provision of information and education, he, however, added that for this to be achieved, the journalist must be properly educated.

According to him, “fresh knowledge continues to emerge from scientific research from time to time on COVID-19. The journalists must continue to learn from time-to-time to enable him to update the public and policy authorities.

“As frontline workers on COVID-19, the journalist needs fresh information about the virus to be able to inform policymakers and the people; they need to know how to manage the risk posed by the virus to their health. Because of knowledge gaps in the virus, journalists may not know enough to be able to manage infection risks for their own health. Another source of concern to a journalist is the hurdle put in place by interests that may be adverse to the provision of accurate information on the pandemic. Journalists have also been reported to be facing serious challenges on violation of their rights while on duty during this period.”

Similarly, Ag. Director-General of NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, also noted that as frontline workers in the coverage of COVID- 19, journalists needed to be supported to do their work.

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Represented by a Director at the Commission, Dr. Igonu Onoja, he said, “safety issues are key to the journalist’s coverage of COVID-19. Journalists go to work and interact with all kinds of people and may become infected and come back home to infect your family. Journalists also need tools to work. They need insurance coverage so that they can have something to fall back on.”

Professor Georgina Odaibo, during her presentation, titled, ‘Salient Issues in the Prevention and Control of COVID-19’, addressed salient points regarding Coronavirus such as transmission.

According to Odaibo, “through respiration, infection of respiratory tracts and gastrointestinal contacts with infected persons, the virus can be transmitted. But because of the envelope around it, the virus can be destroyed by disinfectant, sanitisers with 70 per cent alcohol and hypochlorite.”

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She said though everybody is at risk of being infected considering that the virus could be airborne for some time, “the aged and those with underlying infections such as, diabetes, heart disease were more at risk, while carriers referred to as asymptomatic, with no apparent symptoms, spread the virus unknowingly.”

The symptoms indicated by the virus, she added, include common infections like fever, cough, cold, malaria, pneumonia, while coughing, sneezing by an infected person, and surface contact by infected persons were the commonest means of spread. For prevention, she urged the wearing of facemask, keeping social distancing of about 1 metre (3feet), regular use of sanitisers, and hand washing.

Former President of Radio, Television, Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATAWU), Dr. Yemisi Bangbose, in a brief remark, said that after he monitored some broadcast media, he found that interviewees do not often wear facemask and keep very close while also talking into the microphones and warned journalists to be assertive with their subjects and obey health protocols.

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