• August 12th, 2020

Opinion - Onus on journalists to cure their predicament

When security guards are fighting for salary increment, we are there. When Shoprite employees took to the streets to protest against inhumane working conditions, we marched with them. When teachers demand a pay rise and their bush allowance, equally, we were there. But who will march for or with us when it comes to bread and butter issues confronting journalists? No one! 

Again, when the contemporary Covid-19 hit everyone hard, we are at the forefront, making sure everyone is updated with credible news to survive and make informed decisions. 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. Instead, journalists have been rewarded with salary cuts, reduction of benefits and threats of retrenchments during these crucial times as companies try to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. 

More so, one of the country’s biggest media conglomerate has already slashed its employees’ salaries by 20%. 
Trusto, which owns Informante – both owned by one of the wealthiest Namibians Quinton Van Rooyen – is sending 332 employees home, among them journalists. We understand the difficulties brought upon onto companies by Covid-19 and the economic crisis; however, these are the same companies that will never add a single cent on journalists’ salaries when good rain pours.  Now, why must journalists be forced to take a pay cut when times are tough?

Not so long ago, Johnathan Beukes diagnosed the illness hampering the Namibian media in his near-perfect piece. 
The plethora of issues range from astronomical salaries paid to newsroom managers and sometimes editors while journalists – the engine of any newsroom – are left to pick up leftovers and the threats posed by or opportunities thereof emanating from media convergence. 
From the onset, it must be noted that we don’t proclaim to possess the ultimate wisdom on the subject.
But there is an Ovahimba idiom that goes, “Okanatje kuke hariri ketira kotjivereko”. It loosely translates to, “a baby that does not cry will die or dies while in its carrier”.  

To redress this, a wait-and-see approach is not the route to go anymore. Somebody must rise to the occasion and take on the heat. We must cry to be heard or risk dying like a silent baby – the onus is on journalists themselves!
Absence of a journalists’ trade union doesn’t help either.  
Several attempts to create one fell flat, so far.   The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) 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 that we point to whereby 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 a text message, leaving about seven scribes unemployed. They were not paid that last month’s salary nor given pension.  In a separate case, a publisher running one of the fastest-growing newspaper at the time paid a female journalist a paltry N$1 000 for a month’s work. 
Can one afford mere sanitary pads and other basic needs with a N$1 000 monthly salary? 
But this journalist was simply told in a candid voice, “that is the value of your work for the past month”.  A male colleague of hers stepped in, not to address the issue, but decided to split his salary into half, giving around N$4 000 to the rookie. 
This is but one case.

Worse is, interns and cub journalists are on a N$50 dollar-per-day contract in an economy where a food basket consisting of oil, sugar, 10 kg 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 about N$3 billion from the economy.  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. Nevertheless, the board is still getting paid.  With a few exceptions, accountability and prudence are zilch at State-owned media houses. 

The Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) is a special case. Former communication minister Stanley Simataa admitted that 80% of staff are unnecessary for the broke entity.  
Majority of NBC journalists are on a month-to-month contract, how do you plan your life?
In hindsight, these and many others are just 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 journalism quality there is. 
As the adage goes, you reap what you sow.  NamPower has over the years help its employees acquire necessary qualifications, which has helped the company excel over the years.  

Is there any media institution that can pride itself of having invested heavily on its journalists? We’ll wait for the name. 
This goes without saying journalists ought to equally take charge of their destiny. 
But with more journalists acquiring master’s degrees, the industry continues counting its losses as experienced and quality journalists go look for greener pastures elsewhere. 
Consequently, if journalists do not organise themselves, the ground will remain fertile and the field evergreen for exploitation. 
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 Covid-19 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 your lieutenant 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 now own 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.

Staff Reporter
2020-06-01 09:26:17 | 2 months ago

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