By Lian Cheng
At one time, journalists were classified as frontliners and I believe we are. I remember during the first wave of Covid-19 and the first Movement Control Order, we went to the ground — tried to peep from outside the Screening Centre at Youth and Sports Complex in Kuching just to get a glimpse of what was going on there for reporting purposes. After some effort, DayakDaily got lucky and we managed to interview the doctor in charge of the centre. That, for us, was a good day.
Then we checked on supermarkets, talked to the general public and the businesses that were allowed to operate. We also interviewed stallholders and food operators, to find out how their businesses were affected.
From day one, we are fully aware of the risk our job carries. So among ourselves, we reminded each other to practice proper hygienic measures to ensure that we don’t become part of the daily Covid-19 statistics. Our principle is this: when duty calls, if we need to be somewhere, be somewhere but avoid any form of crowds and gathering when unnecessary.
Being journalists, we fully understand the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic and how it has been rampaging across Sarawak, without mercy. So we take every precaution we can to protect ourselves and our families, to reduce the probability of occupying an ICU bed or taking up a ventilator or a room in a quarantine centre. This is a small part us journalists can play, and we do it quietly and gladly because we are aware of the big picture.
Due to the nature of our work, we are in constant contact with decision makers, which has resulted in a good understanding of their situation and dilemmas that they face on a daily basis. We understand their stress in fighting an invisible, constantly evolving and lethal enemy, and their helplessness in dealing with a public which has a deep distrust for them.
Opting to be positive and constructive, rather than making things even worse, the journalists in Sarawak try hard to increase awareness and better understanding of government policy while at the same time, fighting baseless rumours of the strangest logic, which are mushrooming and which somehow, are readily accepted by the masses.
Along the way, somewhere, journalists who were initially described as “frontliners” were downgraded to non-frontliners. Teachers who were not in the priority list, took over. No journalists complained, because we understand that vaccines are not enough and teachers should be vaccinated first, as they need to face hundreds of students daily. We get it.
We also don’t mind the elderly, those with special needs and those with comorbidities taking up priority lanes, as it is supposedly and rightly so.
Then when the vaccination drive been kicked off, we heard rumours of “backdoor vaccinations”.
They first started in Peninsular Malaysia, then in Sarawak when the vaccination rollout was initiated. We heard rumours that they were some who did not turn up for the vaccination, either that they changed their minds, or they did not check their MySejahtera app and rather than letting the vaccines go to waste, certain individuals were called in at the last minute to be jabbed.
And through this, some councillors of the local authorities have received their jabs. Of course, there are also relatives of the very important people who though have no official duties, are also on the priority list and have received the vaccinations. These, by the way, are not rumours.
Prior to this, no journalist in Sarawak is fighting or taking a tough stance that journalists, whose job as a “frontliner” in nature, should be on the priority list, because there are others who need the vaccine more. But if by being courteous leads to the doses being taken up by some “influential” individuals with no public or official duties but only “private duties”, then perhaps it is time for journalists to take a stand and ask to be reinstated in the priority list.
About two months ago, media houses in Sarawak were asked to submit a list of their journalists and to be placed on a “waiting list”. The list was submitted but until today, none received any instructions to be jabbed, apart from a few TV media reporters who received the vaccinations specially arranged by an assistant minister and the 10 lucky ones who got it when journalists were still classified as “frontliners” by the authorities.
But really, a “waiting list” — what waiting list? However early the journalists submitted their waiting list, it can’t fight the pillow talk of yesternight. And sadly, apart from carrying out “frontliner” duties, the journalists don’t own any doormen holding the key to the backdoor. — DayakDaily