Shillong (Meghalaya ), Aug 24 : After 2 days of not being able to print and publish , North East India’s oldest daily , – The Shillong Times for violating Covid protocols the Indian Journalists Union today expresses concern over the random shutdown of The Shillong Times, by the District authorities after declaring its office building as containment area and reported violations of COVID-19 protocol.
The President of the union , Geetartha Pathak said that 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 and demanded the authorities concerned to 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 August 23 onwards.” A copy of the government order issued on Saturday said there was “detection of positive COVID-19 cases/high rick contacts in the specified location Rilbong….all staff quarters share a common entrance and all protocols of social distancing wearing of face masks and all sanitisation were being violated,’ and it was necessary to declare it as 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 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 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 and former Member, Press Council of India, Geetartha Pathak and Secretary General and IFJ Vice President Sabina Inderjit said that while authorities are in their place in ensuring safety of people, they should have discussed the issue with the newspaper management rather than an ad hoc closure. It sends a wrong message said the Union adding whether the same yardstick of shut down 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.
It may be mentioned that Northeast India’s oldest English daily — The Shillong Times — was shut down temporarily on Aug 23 over allegations of violating corona-virus-related health protocols.
Additionally, the area around the newspaper’s office in Shillong was declared a containment zone after three staffers tested positive for the novel corona-virus, reported The Print.
The Shillong Times has, however, claimed that their office was shut down despite them following all COVID-19 protocols diligently. They wrote in the note to the readers that their “voice remains stifled at the cruel hands of law”.
They have not informed the readers when the office will be functional again and when they will be able to start publishing the daily again.
Patricia Mukhim, the editor of the newspaper, said that the decision on when to restart the paper will be taken soon. In the meanwhile, there is a plan to start the editions online by next week.
She said the organisation has taken all Covid-19 protocol measures, such as instituting sanitizers and putting in place hand washing spaces among others.
As per the Meghalaya government order that was issued on Aug 22 declaring the area a containment zone, all staff quarters in the location share a common entrance, and the office-goers were not following basic COVID-19 protocols, such as social distancing and wearing face masks.
Therefore, they reportedly felt the need to declare the office building and staff quarters of the newspaper a containment zone.