Onus on journalists

…but passion does not pay bills!

01 June 2020 | Opinion

Timo Shihepo and

Edward Mumbuu Jnr

When security guards fight for a salary increment, we are there. When Shoprite employees take to the streets to protest inhumane working conditions, we march with them. When teachers demand a pay raise and bush allowance, equally, we are there.

But who will march for or with us when it comes to bread and butter issues confronting journalists? No one.

Again, now, with the contemporary coronavirus pandemic which has hit everyone hard, journalists have been at the forefront, making sure everyone is updated with credible news to make informed decisions and survive.

But instead of receiving protective gear or danger allowance, it is quite the opposite.

Vividly in our memories are the words of former Erongo governor Cleophas Mutjavikua, who said journalists do not need protective gear.

Short end of the stick

Instead, journalists have been rewarded with salary cuts, a reduction of benefits and threats of retrenchments during these critical times as companies try to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Moreover, one of the country's biggest media conglomerates has already slashed its employees' salaries by 20%.

Trusto, which owns Informante newspaper, owned by one of the wealthiest Namibians Quinton van Rooyen, is sending 332 employees home, among them journalists.

We understand the difficulties brought upon companies by the coronavirus and the economic crisis, however, these are the same companies that will never add a single cent to journalists' salaries when good rain pours.

Why must journalists be forced to take a pay cut when times are tough?

Media illness

Not so long ago, Johnathan Beukes diagnosed the illness hampering the Namibian media in a near-perfect piece.

The plethora of issues includes the astronomical salaries paid to newsroom managers and sometimes editors while journalists – the engine of any newsroom – are left to pick up leftovers.

From the onset, it must be noted that we don't proclaim to possess ultimate wisdom on the subject.

But there is an Ovahimba idiom that goes: “Okanatje kuke hariri ketira kotjivereko”. It loosely translates to: “A baby who does not cry will die in its carrier”.

A wait-and-see approach is not the route to go any more. Someone must rise to the occasion and face the heat. We must cry to be heard or risk dying like a silent baby. The onus is on journalists themselves!

Absence of union

The absence of a journalists' trade union doesn't help either. So far, several attempts to create one have fallen flat.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa Namibia died in its infant stages. No one will remember them.

The Editor's Forum of Namibia only cares about those in top structures of the media houses.

So what, you ponder?

Well, there is a smorgasbord of cases we can point to where journalists were or continue to be mistreated by employers, but have/had no vehicle to use to find recourse.

In 2018, one media boss woke up and fired all his journalists via text message, leaving about seven scribes unemployed. They were not paid that last month's salary nor given a pension.

In a separate case, a publisher running one of the fastest-growing newspapers at the time paid a female journalist a paltry N$1 000 for a month's work. Can one afford sanitary pads and other basic needs with a N$1 000 monthly salary?

But this journalist was simply told candidly: “That is the value of your work for the past month”.

A male colleague stepped in, not to address the issue, but decided to split his salary, giving the rookie N$4 000.

This is but one case.

N$50 interns

Interns and cub journalists are on N$50-a-day contracts in an economy where oil, sugar, Top Score and fish will cost you N$500. Getting to work every day takes another N$600.

Why can't it be purely business by honouring the contract, labour laws and paying them what they deserve?

Because the case is sub judice, we will not delve into the issue of Vitalio Angula, who was sacked as a freelancer by the Namibia Press Agency after expressing his views on the Fishrot scandal in which politicians and associates swindled millions from the economy.

Before deciding to run the entity on prudent financial principles, the New Era Publication Corporation was almost run to the ground as the company used to pay N$1.5 million and N$1.2 million annually to its CEO and managers respectively.

This, in juxtaposition to the N$16 000 per month paid to journalists, is not only puzzling, but insane.

About 25 employees including journalists lost their jobs at The Southern Times after the board and former minister meddled in the operations, leading to its premature closure just when the paper was making strides. The board, however, is still getting paid. With a few exceptions, accountability and prudence are sorely lacking at state-owned media houses.

Special case

The Namibia Broadcasting Corporation is a special case. Former communication minister Stanley Simataa admitted that 80% of staff are unnecessary for the broke entity.

The majority of NBC journalists are on a month-to-month contract. How do you plan your life?

These and many others are but a few issues that confront journalists in their day-to-day operations.

At present, we have not seen any media institution giving out scholarships or bursaries to aspiring or practising media practitioners.

Yet, with little if any empowerment from their side, these institutions demand the best quality.

As the adage goes, you reap what you sow.

Take charge

NamPower has over the years helped its employees acquire necessary qualifications, which, in turn, has helped the company excel over years.

Is there any media institution that can pride itself on having invested heavily on its journalists? We'll wait for the name.

This goes without saying: Journalists ought to take charge of their destiny.

But with more journalists acquiring master's degrees, the industry continues counting its losses as experienced journalists look for greener pastures elsewhere.

Consequently, if journalists do not organise themselves, the ground will remain fertile and the field evergreen for exploitation.

Inclusive and independent

The genesis of all this is to establish an all-inclusive and independent trade union but even this can't be the panacea to combat all journalists' problems.

If the media is the fourth estate, as is commonly said with sheer pomposity, it must look the part, socially and economically.

The media industry was ignored when government launched the N$8.1 billion stimulus package, but when Namibia retained its number one ranking for media freedom in Africa, the government was quick to claim glory. And what does it say about the two former communication ministers' work ethic, Tjekero Tweya and Simataa, who, in their respective terms, miserably failed to table the Access to Information Bill?

Dr Peyavali Mushelenga and Emma Theofelus, the podium is yours. We hope history, unlike your two immediate predecessors, absolves you.

To those journalists with whom we once shared newsroom trenches but have now forgotten about our plight after ascending to managerial positions, editorship or their media institutions where they pay their employees peanuts, shame on you.

* Timo Shihepo and Edward Mumbuu Jnr are journalists with an interest in politics, social justice and the anti-graft fight. The views expressed here are in their personal and private capacities.

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