Rich publishers starve reporters

In Summary

• Exploitative employment practice in the media goes against fair labour practices

• Correspondents earn minimal salaries paid on commission (per story)

A few days ago, I represented Haki Africa at a meeting in Mombasa organised by the Editors’ Guild to get views and comments from the public on how better the media can operate.

Editors from key media houses sat at the high table to listen and respond to concerns raised by the audience. My good friend Victor Bwire, who is an authority on media issues, moderated the discussion and ensured free and open sharing of views and ideas.

Key people present included Mombasa Deputy Governor William Kingi and CEOs of various entities in Mombasa. Surprisingly, however, the journalists I encounter in my work as the executive director of Haki Africa were not present.

Since I have engaged many journalists and media houses in the dispensation of my duties, I knew what ails the media sector the most is poor pay, especially for those working at the grassroots. When I stood up to speak, I did not mince my words.

Of utmost concern is the continued misuse and poor remuneration of local journalists by all media houses in the country. Haki Africa has received many complaints over the years from journalists and correspondents alike, in print and electronic media, over unfair employment contracts and meagre pay not befitting their qualification and experience. The complaints have come from all media houses, big and small, national and regional.

Majority of journalists who work on the ground are correspondents who earn minimal salaries paid on commission (per story). If no story is written, then no pay is earned despite the fact that the journalist will be in the office struggling to get stories, which, in some cases, the editor opts not to run.

While these billions are generated and enjoyed by a few, the journalists who put their lives in danger and work hard to get the stories that sell are not remunerated commensurately

In the print media, for example, the pay is measured by the length of the story— every 30 centimetres earns a journalist a paltry Sh30. In the FM stations, a journalist could toil the whole day and in the end, when he/she is able to deliver a story, the pay is Sh100 per story. Yet, these journalists have families to feed, rent to pay at the end of the month and school fees to clear.

All this is happening when media houses are making billions of shillings in profits. The media sector is one of the most profitable. Politicians and the rich are all working to own media houses and make a killing from the profits. In one media house, it was reported that the proceeds from advertisement alone reached over Sh1 billion in one year alone.

While these billions are generated and enjoyed by a few, the journalists who put their lives in danger and work hard to get the stories that sell are not remunerated commensurately. This poor remuneration and unfair employment terms render journalists, thus media houses, vulnerable to exploitation. And since government and politicians enjoy the monopoly of resources, the media will always give them the lion’s share of coverage.

The exploitative employment practice in the media sector goes against fair labour practices guaranteed in the Constitution. Article 41 provides for labour relations. It states that, “every worker has the right to fair remuneration and reasonable working conditions”. In some media houses in Mombasa, for example, journalists have not been paid for up to four months now. Yet the media owners still expect them to work and deliver.

In key media houses, there are journalists who have been correspondents for years and this goes against labour laws, which require that a person be employed after three months of work. While all this unfairness persists, government has remained mum and allowed the rights of journalists to be flagrantly violated.

Haki Africa appeals to media owners and the Editors’ Guild to ensure better employment terms for their journalists. Instead of only paying Nairobi-based journalists, who present the finished product to the public, hundreds of thousands every month, more consideration should be put on the journalists who do the donkey and dangerous work of rushing to crime scenes and exposing themselves to danger to cover the story. Let us promote fairness in the Fourth Estate.