18:13 GMT11 May 2021
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    New Delhi (Sputnik): Soon after the Indian prime minister announced a 21-day national lockdown, the Ministry of Home Affairs released a list of services exempted from the measure. In addition to health and emergency services, there were print and electronic media telecommunications, Internet services, as well as broadcasting and cable services.

    Journalists in India, like essential service providers, are fighting a three-front battle: the COVID-19 outbreak, unforeseen layoffs, and political pressure. Over 50 journalists in India’s Mumbai city tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) recently.

    In the absence of any health or job security from the government, the news has jolted media professionals reporting from ground in the country.

    “Why not journalists? Media professionals are also risking their lives, why should they be excluded from the ‘COVID-19 Warrior’ list? Media professionals have no job guarantee, no pension and at the time of this pandemic there are a number of retrenchments and massive salary cuts. It's totally inhuman”, the vice president of India’s Press Association, Shishir Soni, tells Sputnik.

    Soni highlighted the initiative of the state government of Odisha, where they announced financial aid of $65,000 (INR 5,000,000) and the honour of “martyr” for healthcare workers if they lose their lives to COVID-19 while treating patients.

    The media fraternity in Mumbai also reached out to Maharashtra's state chief, Uddhav Thackrey, asking for personal protective equipment for media professionals in the field.

    In a series of tweets, the Mumbai Press Club urged the government to provide insurance facilities to media professionals as they are also at a high risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus.

    Risk of Losing Jobs Looms Large

    While announcing a 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while apprehending its impact on companies, said that organisations must not fire people or cut their salaries in this difficult time.

    However, his calls were not been heard, as last week an entire team of  Times of India's Sunday Magazine was laid off overnight.

    Sputnik reached out to the senior assistant editor of the laid-off team for a comment, but she declined, saying “it’s not the right time”.

    ​In such circumstances, journalists from other media organisations are reaching out to one another enquiring about job openings.

    ​Concerned about the plight of journalists, Manish Tewari, former minister of information and broadcasting, has urged Prime Minister Modi to come up with a plan for struggling media professionals in the nation.

    Lockdown Doesn’t Stop Legal Matters​

    As reporting facts remains a challenge amid the lockdown, journalists are also facing legal troubles for stories which did not seem to go well with politics.

    Siddharth Varadarajan, who is the co-founder of digital news medium “The Wire”, was booked for running a story on Uttar Pradesh state chief Yogi Adityanath violating the lockdown to attend a religious event.

    Similarly, a Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra has been booked under the strict Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for "glorifying anti-national sentiments" on her social media accounts.

    Indian journalists have claimed that such instances are “a direct attack on freedom of the media”. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also expressed concern over the exploitation of bills and political powers that prevail in India.

    ​The Editors Guild of India – which is a “non-partisan association of editorial leaders in India” – has also urged the government for strict action against physical assaults on journalists who are covering the coronavirus situation on the ground.

    While the government has not given any concrete answers to the media community, Arvind Kejriwal, the chief of India’s national capital, has noted that media professionals will be tested for COVID-19 in Delhi.

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