According to media experts, one giant step that would make a difference in the media, especially concerning the compensation of journalists, is introducing a national remuneration policy for the sector.
Here are the benefits of a national remuneration policy
Journalism is a critical profession in society as it plays a crucial role in disseminating information to the public and holding the powerful accountable.
However, the compensation of journalists, especially in developing countries such as Kenya, has always been a contentious issue, with many journalists still struggling to make ends meet.
According to Ibrahim Oduor, a legal officer at the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ), as compared to other sectors, journalists lack a national remuneration policy, thus making it difficult for them to know their standard pay rate.
“Compared to the sectors where the Salaries and Remuneration Committee sets remuneration rates according to job groups, the journalism sector does not have a national remuneration policy that guides how journalists should be paid in Kenya,” Ibrahim says.
Although some media houses have begun adopting remuneration policies, they are not uniform, and each media house adopts its standard pay rate.
Furthermore, journalists fall under different categories, including reporters, writers, editors, and others.
Therefore, their compensation varies based on their job description.
“However, some media houses have remuneration policies, although they differ according to the category of the journalist, i.e. a writer, reporter, or news anchor, among others,” Ibrahim states.
Their compensation, according to Ibrahim, is often affected by factors such as experience, qualification, job requirements and influence.
“For example, you will find that a photographer, reporter or writer is paid way less than a news anchor in most media houses due to their job categories in the media house,” he says.
Ibrahim says that when journalists are not well remunerated, they may resort to negative ways of making money, which can compromise their journalistic integrity and credibility.
These negative ways include accepting bribes, fabricating stories and working for political interests.
“It’s important to note that these negative practices are not representative of the majority of journalists, who strive to uphold ethical standards and produce accurate and unbiased reporting.
“However, low pay and precarious working conditions can create incentives for some journalists to engage in these practices,” He states.
Meanwhile, with the emergence of digital trends such as social media, most media houses hire and pay different categories of journalists according to their influence.
“It is evident that most media houses in Kenya do not employ or remunerate journalists according to the set standards. Rather, they look at their command on various social media platforms (brands), which can especially be seen in broadcast media,” Ibrahim noted.
According to him, most media houses do not have a human resources department or a standard recruiting method and thus do not follow the stipulated law when writing the contract.
“It should be based on natural justice, fairness, and transparency and in compliance with Kenyan labour laws and the fundamental principles and rights at work.
“Following such standards will enable all journalists to earn a decent income,” he adds.
Hardship & compensation
Hardship journalism is a form of journalism in which journalists report from dangerous or challenging environments, often risking their lives.
While these journalists are essential in providing news from war zones, disaster-stricken areas, and other hostile environments, their compensation has often been low compared to the risks they face.
“Most media houses, if not all, have not set up separate policies to compensate journalists working in hardship areas. In fact, sometimes you might find that they earn the least,” Ibrahim notes.
Challenges facing the media industry
Beyond compensation, the media industry in Kenya faces several other challenges.
One of the most pressing is sustainability.
As technology has disrupted traditional advertising models, many media houses have struggled to make a return on investment.
This has led to layoffs, restructuring, and even the closure of some organizations.
“Many media houses are no longer making a return on investment because of technology,” Ibrahim notes.
To address this issue, media houses must look at their business models and see how they can embrace technology for their benefit.
“This will enhance the industry’s vibrancy and enable media houses to compensate their journalists better, he adds.
Another challenge is the regulatory environment. Some laws make work for journalists difficult and affect investigative work.
To ensure that journalists are well compensated, different roles must be played by the journalists themselves, media houses, and the government, according to Ibrahim.
The journalist plays a critical role in advocating for fair compensation.
Awareness of their rights and the laws that protect them is essential.
This includes staying up to date on government policies and regulations, as well as understanding the terms of their employment contracts.
“For journalists to be well compensated, they need to be aware of all the laws that come from the government and their workplace,” he says.
Like workers in other sectors, journalists must prove themselves worthy of good pay. They should follow media ethics and produce impactful stories.
The media house
Media houses are also responsible for ensuring their journalists are well cared for.
They must ensure they implement the basic guidelines set by the government to protect workers.
This means adhering to basic guidelines around workplace policies and ensuring that employees are compensated fairly.
They should also provide opportunities for employee growth and career development and give them leave and off days.
“The employers should implement the basic guidelines to ensure that, as much as their cost is to add shareholder value or make a profit, the people who are ensuring that they achieve that objective are well taken care of.
“How do you do this? By ensuring you keep up with the basic minimum, not just in terms of remuneration but also in other things such as leaves and off days as well as insurance policies,” says Ibrahim.
According to Ibrahim, the government’s role is to develop legislation and policies that protect workers and ensure the work area is conducive to employees.
This includes laws that protect journalists from harm while performing their duties and those that dictate how they should be remunerated.
“The government’s role is to develop legislations and policies that protect workers and create a conducive work area for workers and themselves,” he says.
Way forward for the journalism industry
According to Ibrahim, one giant step that would bring a difference in the media, especially concerning the compensation of journalists, is introducing a national remuneration policy for the sector.
“With the tough economic times currently being experienced in Kenya, implementing a national remuneration policy for journalists is more important than ever,” Ibrahim adds.
Low pay and poor working conditions can lead to low morale and a lack of motivation among journalists.
This, in turn, can lead to low standards in journalism, including reduced accuracy, investigative depth, and objectivity, according to Ibrahim.
“By implementing a national remuneration policy, journalists will have the financial security and job stability needed to maintain high standards of journalism,” says Ibrahim.
The industry must also embrace technology and adopt suitable business models to thrive.
Combined with the right policies and guidelines, the above can help the Kenyan media industry thrive and continue playing its vital role in society.
First published by Lynet Okumu, Pulse Live, May 3, 2023.