Newspaper hawkers against Covid pandemic    

Newspapers are one of the most powerful media in the world today covering the world’s small to large news of different cities, countries and societies around the world as well as the public opinion on various interest , writes Makama Mahmud Chowdhury.

At various crisis moments in the country and abroad we feel so anxious to know the latest updated news and with the help of advanced electronic media and technology we are getting the news much faster than before but still we have to rely on the newspaper to get the details. The only thing that is essential after waking up and reading with your tea is newspaper. But today my writing will not centered to the importance of newspapers rather will revolve about those great people, those paper sellers and those newspaper hawkers who are doing a great job in this epidemic. Before you wake up, ignoring the storm and rain delivers the newspaper to you in time. If you look at the face after taking a newspaper from a hawker on the street, you will discover a beautiful smile in his face. However, is there a mystery behind the laughter! Or is there any seriousness! In this context, a line from Humayun Ahmed can be said, “Laughter does not always mean happiness, and sometimes it also means how much you can hide your pain.” Maybe with this smile they hide many things unknowingly in our minds. The black darkness of the new moon seems to have descended on the lives of these people where they have to rely on their daily income to survive in their day to day life.

Newspaper hawkers and street vendors are beginning to endure the pressure of lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic. There are more than 50,000 such newspaper hawkers active in the capital. The jobs and earnings of a large number of hawkers are currently at risk due to the ongoing epidemic and lockdown. When asked about this, a hawker from Saidpur in Nilphamari said, “Before, everyone used to distribute 150 copies of newspapers daily, but now it has come down to only 40 copies.” Another newspaper vendor in Saidpur claimed that the drop in readership of the newspaper was due to the closure of all educational institutions, office courts and student dormitories as part of the government’s efforts to control the spread of the virus. Newspaper distribution is currently closed in various parts of the Dhaka city. Some people are now refusing to take newspapers from hawkers as extra awareness that the virus could spread through newspapers. However, there is no evidence that the virus can be spread through newspapers. Even experts have suggested that there is no danger of spreading Corona virus through newspapers.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), packaged products are unlikely to spread the virus. The (WHO) further says there is no risk in not only newspapers but also products ordered from online by post or parcel. In a Bengali daily newspaper I found EJ Wilkinson, CEO of the International News Media Association, posted a blog about it. “Nowhere in the world has there been any information about the spread of this deadly virus through newspapers, letters or any other paper,” he said. Experts also say that newspapers are made in a completely mechanical process. It is also supplied in specialized vehicles. So there is no risk of infection here. But inspite of a large number of people leaving the newspaper day by day, the sales of newspapers are declining significantly, which seems to have been the main focus of newspaper readers even a few months ago. Hawkers are also now barred from entering various areas due to public holidays and increased lockdowns. Many of them may have to quit their jobs if this situation goes on. Newspaper hawkers have to face deadly battles to survive. They urgently need food and support.

A few days ago, I came to know through Facebook that Bashundhara Group (BG), the patron of the country’s largest East West Media Group, has extended a helping hand to the hawkers. This is a generous support to a large number of newspaper hawkers. They provided packets of rice, pulses, oil and flour to the hawkers free of cost. Such generosity of Bashundhara Group is truly exemplary. With the government the private sector, institutions and the rich need to come forward as all must work together. Newspapers are still being read in big cities and small villages. It is playing a significant role in fighting the challenge of COVID-19 and disseminating accurate information from micro to macro level. In this epidemic what they need is the support from all the corners of the country for their brave deeds.

Considering the problems created in the media in this Corona situation the Information Minister said that newspapers and television have faced various crises during this epidemic. In particular, the circulation of newspapers has decreased, some have come down by half and some have gone down even more. Hawkers and those who work in newspapers on a daily basis are facing various problems. We have already discussed what the government can do to address the problems so that we can pay their unpaid bills as soon as possible. Although newspaper sales have already plummeted, hawkers continue to try to distribute newspapers to all classes of citizens, bracing themselves against the threat of a deadly disease. So, there is no chance to ignore them, especially during the Corona epidemic. These poor people and street vendors are low income people and can easily be infected by the virus. Under the COVID-19 pandemic circumstances, when so much is at stake, ensuring that government responses are timely and adequate and is also necessary for healthy survival of future generations.

Makama is a student of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology