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Lee sees media safety from NIOSH perspective

7th May, 2018

KOTA KINABALU: Media must not only be free, but media practitioners must be adequately protected by law and suitable gear. In a message issued in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the chairman of National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said media organisations should not wait for any incident to happen before adopting the safe work practices under the Guideline for Media Professionals.

His full message: “Today, May 3, we celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993. The date was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of Windhoek Declaration, which is a statement of press freedom principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

The Declaration was produced at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) seminar in Windhoek, Namibia in 1991 before it was later endorsed by the UNESCO General Conference.

On 3rd of May every year we observe and celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom. It is also a date for us to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

As the chairman of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is under the Human Resources Ministry, I believe that we must acknowledge the difficult challenges that are facing media professionals, particularly those who may also lose their limbs or lives in the line of duty.

While the theme of the 2018 celebration, “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law”, highlights the importance of an independent judiciary in ensuring press freedom, we must never forget that media professionals are also exposed to serious occupational risks and hazards around the world.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, at least 81 reporters lost their lives in the line of duty in 2017 while another 262 journalists were imprisoned for doing their jobs in the same year.

After the incident that killed a Bernama TV cameraman in 2011 in Somalia, NIOSH provided some input to help the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) publish the comprehensive guidelines on safety for media professionals.

In the tragic incident, Noramfaizul Mohd Nor was killed by stray bullets while covering a humanitarian aid mission in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sept 2, 2011.

Unfortunately, after the fatal incident we could still see media professionals being sent to risky and dangerous assignments without suitable protective gear or knowledge on the risks that they would face.

Among the cases that have raised our concern was when reporters, photographers and cameramen were exposed to the poisonous VX chemical when covering the murder of a high-profile person from North Korea. It should be an eye opener to media organisations on the lack of protection given to their staff.

Media personnel could also be exposed to diseases and other environmental threats when covering natural calamities and major outbreaks while those sent to war zones and conflict areas might be injured or killed.

Media organisations should not wait for any incident to happen before adopting the safe work practices under the Guideline for Media Professionals.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994, it’s compulsory for employers to provide safe and healthy working environment for their workers.

I had raised this issue during a meeting with Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak in May last year and he had agreed to give his full support to NIOSH to organise the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) for Media programme on Aug 10, last year.

Creating awareness among media professionals is part of NIOSH’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and we will organise more OSH for Media programmes at NIOSH branch offices nationwide as to enable more media professionals to benefit from them.

Among others, the participants would learn on how to assess the risks at the scene and find the best ways to minimise or avoid accidents that could happen while on duty.

We must always remember that the main role of media professionals is to get the news and should not become the subject of news.

Reporters, photographers and cameramen will not deliver the news but end up in tragic circumstances if they are injured or killed while on duty.

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