Journalists face all sorts of hazards and dangers on the job. They can contract malaria, for example, if covering news in a malaria-prone area. Their equipment can be damaged or destroyed in conflicts. They themselves may be subject to bodily harm. In the line of work, journalists face all sorts of risks and there are several input, tools and initiatives designed to protect journalists. While this has been introduced in some developed countries, in countries like Bangladesh the concept for insurance tailor-made for journalists is still a novel concept.
These observations were made during a roundtable on ‘Insurance for the Safety of Journalists’ held on Saturday at a local hotel in the capital. The roundtable was organised by Article 19 under the project “Journalists with enhanced safety and security (JESS)”, bring implemented with the funding of US state department’s DRL (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor ) and Free Press Unlimited (FPU).
Faruq Faisal, regional director Article 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, delivered the welcome address and briefly introduced the project aimed at ensuring the safety and security of journalists from both external and internal threats in Bangladesh.
Hans Niwuwenhuijse, senior program coordinator, Free Press Unlimited, said that the organisation aimed at creating an enabling environment for independent media. This particular project with Article 19 focused on the safety and security of journalists, while the concept of insurance for journalists was one of the components being introduced.
Rumky Farhana, senior programme officer, ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, introduced the theme of the discussion, explaining that it would focus on sharing knowledge and best practices of insurance for media workers as a component of safety mechanism. Different insurance strategies were also to be discussed.
Elisabet Cantenys, executive director, ACOS Alliance, joined the meeting online and made her presentation on safety of journalists, with focus on insurance as an important tool.
Since journalist-specific insurance was a new concept in Bangladesh, she went into the details of what it entailed and how it was carried out in different places of the world and the need to discuss and see what would be suitable and feasible in Bangladesh.
Going into the global best practices of this insurance, she raised the points of who to insure, the coverage, the possibilities of self-insurance, policy transparency, insurance as a part of a robust safety policy and protocol and so on.
A lively discussion among the participants of the roundtable revealed keen interest in the concept of insurance for journalists coupled with concerns on the practical aspects of implementing this innovative idea.
As not all media outlets were financially sound and well established, this could be challenging, it was observed.
Elisabet Cantenys suggested collaborative efforts in this regard among the journalist community to come up with ideas and recommendations.
The roundtable was attended by senior and mid-ranking members of the journalist community including Sajjad Sharif, executive director of Prothom Alo, Nayeemul Islam Khan, editor of Amader Notun Shomoy, SM Akash, Chief News Editor, Deepto TV, Ayesha Kabir, head of Prothom Alo English Web, and others,
Sajjad Sharif pointed out that while Prothom Alo was an established newspaper with the capacity to look after its journalists, not all media houses had that strength and running a media outfit in Bangladesh wasn’t easy. So the concept of journalist’s insurance would be a challenge.
Nayeemul Islam Khan said that Bangladesh still lacked the insurance culture and many did not even have personal insurance as in other countries.
Ayesha Kabir suggested consultations with the stakeholders in the media and insurance experts to see what would be the best way to go about this in a pragmatic manner.
SM Akash said while media houses in Bangladesh had health benefits and such for their staff, journalist-specific insurance was still an alien idea and would require further study.
Both Rumky Farhana and Hans Niwuwenhuijse, on behalf of the project, assured those present that this was just an introduction to the issue and there would be further in-depth and regular discussions on the issues pertaining to safety for journalists in general and insurance in particular.