EDITORIAL (EDITION 1)
Of late we have witnessed unprecedented purging of media houses’ employees in the name of COVID 19 pandemic after raring its dreadful head on March 13, 2020. Apart from this, some media owners have adopted stringent measures such as paycuts to manage their drying revenue sources.
But is COVID 19 only a smokescreen for a wider scheme by the media houses to cut down on their existing staff loads after the advent of social media explosion that has turned everybody into a ‘journalist’!
A fundamental question comes to mind: are these pay cuts and layoffs COVID 19 related or Kenyan media has been on the downward trend for tough times because of dropping ads revenue earnings?
Whatever the reasons advanced the five leading media groups – Nation Media Group, Royal Media Group, Radio Africa Group, MediaMax Networks and The Standard Group – have all mutilated themselves citing coronavirus disease.
Journalists and staff working for the media houses on print, online and broadcast earning more than Sh50,000 have been ‘forced’ to take up temporary pay cuts, some up to 50 per cent, with terms to reviewed every three months depending on the company’s performance.
Due to slump in advertising revenues, Kenyan journalists are now among the thousands of media workers globally either been furloughed, sacked or salaries slashed.
However, within the media ecosystem – government, public and private sector media, social media, nongovernmental organizations and citizens – there is cadre of stringers, correspondents, freelancers and newspaper vendors that nobody is talking about.
This group of media cog has been left at the mercy of relief food from the national or county governments to survive as Kenya Correspondents Association remains mum while Kenya Union of Journalists’ only interest is unionized members from media groups. Therefore, where does this unforgotten cadre of media workers go for assistance?
So hiding behind the outbreak of the coronavirus does not count for the discriminatory measures being exhibited by media houses on their peripheral workers experiencing hard times because of the global meltdown.
We are cognizant of the fact that COVID 19 has not spared the media with drastic fall in public events, in advertisement and near collapse revenue sources but everybody needs support to remain afloat.
The raft of measures meted out through curfews and cessations have dealt a blow to revenue streams for the media resulting into slowing down of the industry’s economic activities and increased recurrent expenditures.
Reeling under ‘untold economic’ suffering, the Media Owners Association has raised its concerns to the government requesting for consideration in the support being given to other critical service providers.
This calls for the Communication Authority of Kenya to step in and direct content couriers to waive costs of content distribution for the digital platforms and costs of prints for the publishers of newspapers.
With nearly 200 FMs, 92 television stations, 100 online platforms and numerous publications across the 47 counties, we, in CMG, see mass sackings as an escapist way to an end rather than the opposite.
This wanton reduction of media workers and operations will deny the government and leaders the chance to shape public opinion and educate the public not only on COVID 19 but also other issues such as the impact of climate change and the economic distress from the US-China trade wars.
Probably, some media houses might never make it back after this current crisis but we believe the government can save the industry by extending financial support (like hospitality industry) through tax rebates on printing and broadcasting materials among others.