Like other spheres of life, the media industry is also forced to endure the hard knocks owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The extended lockdown, imposed to rein in the spread of coronavirus disease, brought economy to its knees nationally and globally. Millions of workers were given their marching orders as industrial production, trade and supply chain came to an abrupt halt. The journalism that relies on advertisement revenues also suffered from the economic and trade fallouts. Hundreds of journalists were laid off and newspapers folded. Some media houses asked their journalists to take unpaid leave or accept salary cuts while others faced unfriendly atmosphere at their working places. According to the president of Federation of Nepali Journalists, over 2,000 journalists have lost their jobs and hundreds of others are at risk of losing employment. The knock-on effect of economic crisis on the media sector is serious and severe. This has raised the question regarding the operation modality of media houses and their capacity to survive the unexpected shocks.
A news report, carried by this daily on Tuesday, recounts the woes of a host of working journalists. They have lodged their complaints at the FNJ, the umbrella body of Nepali journalists across the country. The journalists working at the big private media houses have faced dismissal from job and salary cuts. Some of them are told to stay on unpaid leave. It goes against the basic tenets of profession to deprive journalists of working atmosphere at their institutions. During the lockdown, it was very challenging to cover the news events and report them to the audience. Like the health workers, journalists were on the frontlines to update the public on what is happening on the ground. They worked round the clock to convey the authentic and credible information about the COVID-19 and possibility of its transmission into the community to the people. But many of these frontline warriors were discouraged by their own bosses. This is deplorable situation and must be reversed.
Now the FNJ is meditating between the journalists and the owners of private media houses as per the Working Journalists Act and Regulation that defines the legal rights, salary and other fiscal benefits for the working journalists. But many of the disputes are yet to be settled largely owing to the adamance of the management. The FNJ has received the complaints of journalists from 14 media houses. It has resorted to both tactics – protest and negotiations – to convince the management in favour of the journalists who were kicked out of their offices. In a similar manner, the Department of Information and Broadcasting has also corresponded with the concerned media houses to sort out the matters in mutual understanding. Private investment in the media sector has, of course, spurred the proliferation of Nepali media and their professional development. At the same time, the media entrepreneurs can’t ignore the genuine concerns of journalists who can perform their duty with confidence if their job security and professional dignity is guaranteed. It is imperative to sort out the problems based on the existing media laws and democratic principles.