It's time to discuss minimum wage for journalists

Journalists must be formally contracted and paid a wage that offers them dignity and independence. [iStockphoto]

As the world marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3, my mind was drawn to the plight of many Kenyan journalists, mostly in the smaller media houses across the country but also touching on the bigger ones.

First, a number of journalists do not have contracts with the organisations they work for. The implications for many is that they do not even know how much money they should expect to earn. I had a chat with a colleague from a regional media house, and he had not been paid for close to 10 months. This happened to be around election season, which is among the most hectic periods for field journalists. There are a lot of movements and expenditure to be incurred.

I'm sure you are asking how he was surviving. Tokens!!! That means a journalist would only seek out soft stories whose subjects would be indebted to him for giving them prominence. The greater danger is being pushed to enter into unholy relationships with news sources for the stomach's sake. Nothing threatens media freedom more than that.

The media houses in question actually make profits. Otherwise, why would they be still in business? They also don't have many employees compared to mainstream media houses, so their wage bill is manageable. We can only attribute their reluctance to offer better pay to their staff to the greed that pervades the private sector in the name of capitalism.

With World Press Freedom Day coming just two days after the world also marked Labor Day, I strongly feel that we should now be engaged in a discussion of a minimum wage for all journalists. There should be a commitment from media owners on agreeable minimum wage; otherwise, no license.

Journalists must be formally contracted and paid a wage that offers them dignity and independence. I believe this is one initiative the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) can authoritatively pursue. MCK is mandated to prescribe standards for journalists and media enterprises.

Again, staying on the nexus between labor rights as marked on May 1 and press freedom as marked on March 3, journalists must be allowed the freedom to join labor organisations of their choice. Those in the industry know that being a member of Kenya Union of Journalists is viewed with suspicion, particularly in the private sector. The relationship between a union and an employer must not necessarily be adversarial.

Lastly, it is obvious that journalists welfare depends on performance of a media house. In the last few months, we have witnessed a number of organisations being forced to let go of some staff so as to stay afloat. This is where we turn our eyes to the government. Being a major advertiser, it must strive to keep the financial flow within the sector. Pending bills must be cleared promptly; otherwise, the sector will crumble.