Sindhi newspapers must develop a common vocabulary, which conveys the same sense of news – including urgency and importance. Sindhi Language Authority should also prepare Coronavirus Emergency Dictionary and bound the newspapers and columnists to use it while writing about the virus
By Zaffar Junejo
Today is Sunday – the last day of the week. But amidst lockdown, it has lost its psychological effects. It is like an ordinary day – no late-night readings, coffees, films, and long calls – instead of giving a break it brought forward the dreary of the previous days.
The newspaper hawker has thrown the newspapers, but nowadays newspaper-reading is not a priority – or in other words, the urgency has altered our priorities. I collected the rolled newspapers tightened with the rubber bands. But immediately, I thought almost all are available online. So, I put them on a forsaken table. I came into my room and washed my hands. I surfed some newspapers, but I was shocked that each newspaper has used different words in narrating the Coronavirus story of a location. If someone reads three Sindhi newspapers and follow the same story of the beat, the reader will get different messages.
I have been associated with emergency organizations and I have considerably read the communication and awareness literature prepared for the emergencies. I know all organizations use the same words and terms for the emergency. The common words and their implication help the actors in understanding the nature, intensity, and scale of the emergency. The same trends are founded in English newspapers. The English newspapers frequently use a common set of words while reporting the Coronavirus. The frequent words in use are: ‘asymptomatic, blanket bans, clusters, fatalities, contact-tracing, contain the virus, lockdown, deep-cleaned, Ebola handshake, epicenter, epidemic, herd immunity, hotspots, immunity, mass gatherings, mitigate, mutate, panic buying, patient zero, remote-consultations, self-isolating, and social distancing.’ The sender and receiver understand the message for which these words are used to communicate. If the journalist writes ‘Ebola handshaking’ the sender (journalist) and receiver (reader) understands that it means ‘greeting someone by touching elbows with them.’ If there is a word, ‘herd immunity’ both parties understand that ‘resistance to the spread of a disease that results if enough people in a population have or develop immunity’ Likewise, ‘patient zero’ means ‘the first patient’ and ‘panic-buying’ stand for the state of buying large quantities of particular products because of fears of shortages. However, Sindhi newspapers, while reporting the same news item, use a different set of words, and it is left at the reader’s discretion to understand the level of intensity, type of help needed and scale of the emergency. There may be a long list that how a piece of ambiguous news is reported in Sindhi newspapers. The most common words/phrases, I noted in the Coronavirus days are:
حالتون خراب آهن (Situation is bad(
ماڻهن کي ڪجهه نه مليو (People got nothing) ،
رشوت جي بازار گرام (Corruption at its height)
سرڪار نظر نه آئي، (There was no government)
حڪومت واعدو وساري ڇڏيو،( The Government has forgotten its promise)
These reporting phrases first give the impression that the reader knows the contexts, and second, there is subjectivity. It tricks two things – it allows the reporters to personalize the news and resultantly reader doubts on its objectivity. Therefore, even in emergencies, most of the readers don’t take the news seriously. Why it is so, someone may ponder on its reasons.
There may be more than one reason, but I think the majority of Sindhi newspapers are not interested in the development of Sindhi language. Therefore, Sindhi newspapers’ language is not considered a standard language, while there is a question of representative words. Besides that, almost all newspapers are not willing to invest in the improvement of the writing skills of their reporters and finally there is no tradition of hiring skilled editors. (Since couple of decades the Sindhi dailies have no editor and one can say the newspapers sans editors). Therefore, the urgency of downing the copy, push them to print -what has been received and composed. Therefore, in the hurry, they forget that instead of information, the impression is being printed. I am of the view that in Coronavirus days, Sindhi newspapers must develop a common vocabulary, which conveys the same sense of news – including urgency and importance. On the other hand, there is the role of Sindhi Language Authority to prepare the Coronavirus Emergency Dictionary and bound the newspapers and columnists to use it while writing about the Coronavirus.
On the lighter note, allow me to share with you the list of most common words of the English language, which are used in a normal situation (emergency). According to Learning English With Oxford’s website, there are three thousand words related to the different types of emergencies and medical assistance, However, the words in common usage in a regular emergency are thirty. These are: ‘Accident, Accident and Emergency, Ambulance, Bandage, Blood, Breathing, Broken, Cold, Cut, Doctor, Emergency, Faint, Fever, First Aid, Flu, Help, Hospital, Hospitals, Hurt, Ill, Injured, Injury, Light-headed, Medicine, Nurse, Pain, Pills, Shock, Sick, Surgery, Symptoms, Tablets and Treatments.’
Now question is to work on preparing the emergency words list. I believe without agreed words, which have the same meaning and understanding for the sender and receiver is the guaranty of effective communication.
Till Sindhi newspaper develops the protocols for the Coronavirus reporting, if you are an active journalist, I request you to visit the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) at https://gijn.org/2020/03/10/ and read Miraj Ahmed Chowdhury’s article ‘Tips for Journalists Covering COVID-19’. He is the editor of GIJN in Bangla.
Remember, we are living in times of crisis, we see the shallowness, and witness the best effort of humanity. We are passing through the same situation, although our locations are different. But the positive or negative aspect of emergency news encourages and disgusts us in the same way. Therefore, it becomes the prime duty of the journalists to update us objectively, and enhance readers’ trust in their filed stories.