When the world got stuck with all doors closed in a lockdown following the first wave of the pandemic, we in the media were there in the front-end of the battle. standing with the law enforcers, health workers and cleaning workers. We were at the forefront of creating awareness about the vigilance needed to prevent the spread of disease, and blasting the rumours spread through social media and WhatsApp varsities, all intended to present the grave crisis faced by the health sector at the same time sharing news of consolation.
When public and private institutions got shut one after another, and even when their existence faced a threat by myriad crises, the newspapers of Kerala did not shut down for a single day; nor did any channel studio go off the air. True, no one would expect the ubiquitous disease virus to show any special mercy to media persons. And many of our tribe had collapsed with rising temperatures. Even at such a juncture, we were not concerned about ourselves but kept talking about making food and treatment available to those to who they were denied. We clamoured for means of flying home those who had got stranded abroad. We were intent on delivering the clean open air from outside to those who were locked inside closed houses.
Now when the second wave has hit us all, with double the striking force of last year, it is snatching the frontline warriors with their pen and camera in hand. As per figures gathered by the women journalists' collective of the country Network of Women in Media (NWMI), the number of media persons who succumbed to Covid is 243. In April, at least two media persons died each day. This figure is unlikely to have precisely included the scribes outside the mainstream media who gather news at the local-rural level. Add to this the non-journalist segment who work day and night to accomplish the printing and distribution of newspapers, it is sure to give a shocking figure. In the national capital, several media persons and their families, including our own institution, are in the grip of the pandemic. And the Indian Newspaper Society building, where most of the national bureaus of newspapers are housed, is more or less deserted. Of late, beyond the capital and north India, Covid has crept close to our newsrooms. A Keralite journalist fell to Covid the other day in Kochi. And it was during a shining phase of his professional career that the senior chief reporter of Mathrubhumi News channel departed. When the dear ones lose their lives, it is our destiny to prepare the next story with shivering hands, while wiping tears.
Contrary to public perception, journalists do not enjoy any kind of special consideration or guard, not the least from government machinery that almost lies shattered. There may be some who wonder why when things have gone so out of hand, scribes should venture out and gather news. The answer is that it is to give warning about and try to prevent more terrible tragedies that would have happened and may still happen. Had we not said aloud the facts and figures from the hospital corridors and open crematoria, those in power would have declared everything was fine, pushing all truth under the carpet. Journalists in many parts of India do face the threat of being arrested under the National Security Act for reporting about not only Covid but also about the chaos in hospitals and scarcity of medicines.
States like Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had declared journalists as frontline Covid warriors. Kerala is also reported to be preparing for that. Whatever be the name by which we are called, we will persist in the fight for the peaceful existence of man and earth. All we ask for is the atmosphere in which we can speak the truth aloud and fearlessly. At this crucial hour, Madhyamam pays homage to the journalists and non-journalist workers who lost their lives to Covid.