Enforce better social distancing for media personnel, CIJ tells MOH

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KUALA LUMPUR:  The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) calls on the Ministry of Health (MOH) to enforce guidelines that would temporarily halt all face-to-face press conferences by Cabinet ministers and state authorities, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the possible risk of infection among journalists.

CIJ views that press conferences organised by the MOH appear to ignore its own directives on social distancing, which call for deferment of large meetings and events and note that this was still the case during yesterday’s daily coronavirus briefing by the health minister in Putrajaya, CIJ highlighted via a press release.

“Journalists and videographers are still expected to cover work visits by the health minister, as is the case with most diary assignments involving federal ministers.

“Some of these events involve visiting hospitals, a clear risk for photojournalists who have to enter such premises to take pictures; press conferences are usually held at a separate, nearby location.

“We urge health officials in Putrajaya to walk the talk and ensure that cameras and reporters observe a strict six-foot rule – as is the case for press conferences at San Francisco City Hall, for example. Government officials too should keep a safe distance from one another as well as the reporters. This is not difficult to arrange,” Wathshlah G. Naidu said.

However, such an arrangement may not be suitable if the room or hall the press conference is in is small.

If that is the case, then every other seat in the audience should remain empty, with notes on those seats clearly stating that they are to be unoccupied for the duration of the press conference, highlighted Wathshlah.

“ This should also be the case for all press conferences. Reporters attending such briefings at the Ministry of Health have their temperature checked when entering the premises.

“ We also note that the Ministry of Health regularly streams their press conferences through live streaming on Facebook, and promptly issues press statements as soon as the event is done.

“ We laud such steps, and note that such measures will encourage more journalists to work remotely instead of attending such events in person. This, in turn, reduces the risks of infecting media practitioners.” she added.

However, broadcast journalists, videographers and cameramen may not have this luxury, and will still have to attend such press conferences. Therefore, we hope that social distancing measures are strictly put into practice.

“Proper hand sanitisation and face masks should also be made available for all who attend, including ministers or officials who chair such meetings or engagements with the media.

“It is hoped that other ministers, state leaders, political parties, associations, and event organisers abide by such guidelines.

“However, the Ministry of Health must spearhead such an initiative first. Any reasonable event organiser would look to the top-ranking health officials to see how they work around this before following suit, no doubt those in government as well.”