Across all countries in South Asia, it became apparent that the organisations they work for played a significant role in determining journalists’ levels of happiness at work and in life during the Covid outbreak, according to a new study.
Almost all the South Asian journalists who shared their experiences during the Covid outbreak admitted that they were stressed and depressed during this period.
They report that this was mainly due to the paradoxical situation they had to confront, said the report published recently.
The majority of interviewed journalists were happy that their monthly salaries had not been cut in spite of the financial difficulties faced by their organisations.
The study titled 'Workplace Happiness, Journalism and Covid in South Asia' was jointly conducted by Achala Abeykoon, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, Archana Kumari, Central University of Jammu, India, Mohammad Sahid Ullah, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh, Pallavi Majumdar, Royal Thimphu College, Thimphu, Bhutan, Sajjad Ali, University of Malakand, Dir lower, KP, Pakistan, Mou Mukherjee Das, Maulana Abdul Kalam University of Technology, Kolkata, India, Santosh Kumar Biswal, Rama Devi Women's University, Bhubaneswar, India, MC Rasmin, Media Development Specialist and Academician, Sri Lanka, Shilpa Kalyan, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India, Mohd Shahid, Journalist at The News International, Peshawar district, Pakistan, Mamunor Rashid, Khulna University, Khulna, Bangladesh.
Senior media professionals from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were interviewed to explore how they were treated by their media institutions during the pandemic.
The authors found that journalists were not heavily dissatisfied with their employment during the pandemic.
However, interview participants stated that media organisations could have played a significant role in extending emotional and psychological support to their employees during this period.
These practices can become exemplary, allowing journalists to better cope with future traumatic events and enhance well-being in the journalism profession.
“We are lucky that we were paid a salary every month and had the opportunity to work from home. There has been no major job cut during the pandemic,” said one of the Bangladeshi journalists interviewed as part of the study.
A senior journalist in Bangladesh identified this as the “only comforting thing” that happened during the pandemic.
In Odisha, a state in the eastern part of India, Odia language journalists were also glad that they were paid their full salaries and received other perks as usual even though media organizations were reeling from the dearth of advertising revenues.
The journalists interviewed in Sri Lanka and Pakistan did not offer any negative comments on their monthly salaries.
Over 90 per cent of Bhutanese citizens are active members of at least one social media platform.
Thus, legacy media those are heavily dependent on government advertising and hand-outs struggle for their survival.
According to a senior journalist from Bhutan this situation has worsened when the Bhutanese government took to publishing information on its official Facebook pages instead of holding regular press briefings to the mainstream media to disseminate information.
Consequently, the number of private newspapers dropped from 11 in 2013 to five in 2019. “We saw losing our jobs as the main threat instead of infection,’’ a senior journalist shared (personal communication, August 19, 2022).
A journalist interviewed in West Bengal, India was critical of the salaries journalists receive. He said that employees are exploited, especially younger ones, and that salaries are not paid according to the standard norms.
The opportunity to work from home and flexible time off.
Under normal circumstances, journalists are generally unable to work from home because they must meet strict deadlines and travel to the field to gather news. Long and irregular hours of work are one of the main sources of stress for journalists.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Odisha and West Bengal of India and Sri Lanka were glad that they were given the rare opportunity to work from home.
“Introducing the home office was the best thing for the employees, as many colleagues tested positive for COVID-19. This decision brought the employees a great deal of comfort,” said a journalist based in Dhaka.
One journalist from Bengal, India who was assigned to New Delhi during the pandemic was allowed to report to work from the Kolkata office (capital of West Bengal state) until the situation improved.
Further, female employees in a small-scale digital media station called Pahalavan, in northern Sri Lanka have very much benefitted from the work-from-home option, as they felt that traveling was not safe or that it was stressful, or that they needed to be home to take care of their family.
Irregular and long working hours including weekends was an important concern in the journalism profession, particularly for women we interviewed.
A senior journalist in Bangladesh reported that he had to go to the office from time to time because he was the leader of a section.
He felt that management pressured employees to resume certain duties, which caused stress and even death for some. The pandemic highlighted the peculiarity of journalism in Bhutan.
The lack of competition in the industry meant that Bhutanese journalists could stay at home during the pandemic.
“In 2020, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 in a remote village, but none of the journalists wanted to risk their lives to go there,’’ explained a senior journalist.
The fact that there was no pressure to go into the field can be interpreted in a number of ways. It could be a clear indication of a lack of drive to bring relevance and urgency to news reports. On the other hand, it could be a work culture that genuinely values journalists’ lives.
This ease of working from home has positively impacted journalists’ lives as they have been able to spend meaningful time with their family members and enhance their social communications during a difficult period. For most of them it was a rare opportunity to enjoy a break from their irregular and long work hours.
Similarly, Posetti, Bell, and Brown found that the journalists valued their friends and family more than before and experienced a deeper appreciation for life during the pandemic.
Another benefit of working from home is finding time to enhance their professional and life skills. For example, Shafi Ullah and Sabir Aman of Pakistan read books, enrolled in online courses and contacted international journalist organizations and unions. They attended numerous virtual meetings, workshops, conferences, etc.
Further, most of the journalists interviewed were glad that they were allowed to take time off without losing pay during the pandemic.
According to a journalist from Sri Lanka, reporters in his organization received 14 paid days off if they tested positive for COVID-19.
Similarly, in Odisha, India, media organizations were flexible when it came to giving their employees time off when needed. Journalists who were infected with the virus were given special leave so that they could quarantine, which meant that the time off did not impact casual and emergency leaves.
The journalists were also happy that their management took measures to ensure their safety and physical well-being.
Some media organizations have even provided employees who contracted COVID-19 at work with hotel accommodations, food allowances, and dry rations to quarantined employees and their families.
Some organizations allowed their journalists to participate in online press conferences, conduct online interviews, limit access to their premises, etc. in an effort to keep them safe.
Several respondents who work in other countries were grateful of the support provided by senior management at their organizations.
“Even when I tested positive for COVID-19, the top management was always in touch with me and inquired about my health,” said a journalist.