IJU expresses concern over shutdown of Meghalaya daily

NEW DELHI, Aug 24: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has expressed concern over the random shutdown of The Shillong Times daily by the East Khasi Hills district authorities in Meghalaya after declaring its office building as a containment area and reported violations of the Covid-19 protocol.

“Given that media is an essential service, the newspaper management should have been allowed to make requisite arrangements to come out with the edition by taking all precautions,” the IJU said, and demanded that the authorities in Shillong review their order.

In a message to its readers, The Shillong Times said: “After 75 years of service, we got the stick from the government for alleged violation of health protocol. This means that ST will not hit the stands from 23 August onwards.”

A copy of the government order issued on Saturday said there was “detection of positive Covid-19 cases/high risk contacts in the specified location Rilbong… all staff quarters share a common entrance and all protocols of social distancing, wearing of facemasks and all sanitization were being violated,” and it was necessary to declare it as a containment zone.

However, the daily has contested the accusation, saying all protocols were in place but “an official order picked holes.”

Its editor Patricia Mukhim told the IJU: “All we are asking is that, since those tested positive are under quarantine, the rest of the staff testing negative and who are not direct or secondary contacts of machine workers be allowed to work from their home with skeletal staff being allowed in the newsroom. But even that is not being allowed, although the office was sanitized last evening. What sort of authoritarian regime is this, which does not even allow essential services to function?”

In a statement, IJU president Geetartha Pathak and secretary-general Sabina Inderjit said that, while authorities are in their place in ensuring safety of the people, they should have discussed the issue with the newspaper management, rather than enforcing an ad hoc closure.

“It sends a wrong message,” said the union, and sought to know whether the same yardstick of shutdown would be allowed, “say, in government buildings housing various ministries, where some cases are found positive.”

It urged the authorities to heed to the newspaper’s plea, allow the edition, and not add to the woes of the journalists already working under pressure.