• While media houses are making tens of millions in profits, the majority of journalists are paid peanuts.
• There is a huge pay disparity in the sector. A select few are paid hundreds of thousands, while hose who toil to actually get stories are paid embarrassingly little.
The world over, people are dependent on the media to know the happenings around them.
The right to information is the right to live. Without information, we would never understand what is going on around us. It would thus be impossible to coordinate, let alone know what to do where.
The world, our countries and our lives would be a dark bottomless hole. It is information that gives us power to do what is required of us in order to survive day by day.
Information helps us make wise choices and develop our intellect. It allows individuals and communities to make progress in their lives and improve their livelihoods.
It is important, therefore, to ensure the sector that brings us information is well placed to do so and those working there — journalists — are well taken care of.
Dark were the days Kenya’s media was gagged and could not freely inform Kenyans of what was going on in the country.
Older Kenyans will remember well the days of sedition in the 1980s and early 1990s, when journalists were harassed for publishing anti-government stories.
They would be arrested, some taken to court at night and thrown to the gallows without due process being followed.
The profession operated in fear and only a few dared the state at their own peril. Thankfully, those days are now gone.
Today, Kenya’s media is one of the freest on the continent and probably the world.
They can publish not just anti-government stories but also report about top leaders in the country. There is no limit to what can be published [except for what is deemed to be sensitive national security issues].
However, while we enjoy the information shared with us by the media, little do we know about the frustrations our journalists go through in their profession.
While media houses are making tens of millions in profits, the majority of journalists are paid peanuts.
There is a huge pay disparity in the sector. A select few, especially those seen on the screens and top editors, are paid hundreds of thousands per month, while the majority of those who toil to actually get the stories from the ground are paid embarrassingly little.
If anything, a good number of those paid poorly are considered freelance and paid per story, even after working for a media house for years.
This has made journalism one of the most poorly remunerated professions in the country.
Why is it that media owners pay other goods and service providers well and constantly but never consider the same for those who work for them?
Allegations abound of how media houses ignore those that work behind the scenes and regularly discriminate against them. They are left a frustrated lot yet they do all the essential donkeywork.
Further, allegations of sexual harassment are also rife in the sector.
Senior officers of either sex are accused of harassing junior staff and demanding sexual favours. This is happening at both national and local media houses, including television stations, newspapers and radio (FM) stations.
When a few speak up to demand justice, they are dismissed. Since times are hard and opportunities in the sector difficult to come by, journalists are forced to remain silent and toe the line.
True journalism is that which is done by those earning peanuts.
They risk their lives and well-being to get the stories that are then edited and screened by the heftily paid journalists. As a country, it is time we shine a light on the profession and demand fairness in the sector.
Media owners must be put on the spot to explain the discrepancies and unfair trade practices.
Equally, journalists themselves must not be cowed but speak up for their rights. They are always quick in highlighting similar challenges in other sectors but are afraid to do the same for themselves. This must change now.
It is time to stand up and demand that one of the oldest professions in the world, journalism, is liberated from the shackles of discrimination, harassment and poor pay in Kenya.