It is 6:00 pm on a Wednesday evening. I was yet to leave the newsroom when my phone rang. It is a colleague journalist working for a local station. I’ll call him Dan for privacy reasons.
It is rare of Dan to reach out and obviously I am apprehensive; to pick the call or not to? There he calls for a second time. Well, maybe he wants to give me leads to a story.
“Hey bro, uko na soo tatu hapo uniokoe? Niko hapa stage naenda nyumbani na bibi na watoto wanadhani nawapelekea chakula na nimesota (Hey brother, would you lend me Sh 300? I am heading home from bus station and my wife and children cannot just wait for me arrive with goodies yet I am broke).”
My calendar tells me it is date 12th. Presumably, every employee must have been paid. Long story cut short, I send him what I have.
One week later Dan calls back. This time around he is in Naivasha following up on a story for his station. But he is short of bus fare back to Nairobi. Perhaps he is convinced that ‘his brother’ will fuliza for him again. Too bad. My pouch could not withstand the heavy debt burden which is shrinking Kenya.
Quick match backwards. In 2018, Francis Mburu, the man at the center of Ruaraka Land saga, is on record telling journalists that he understood the level of emptiness in a journalist’s pocket.
“I have lots of respect for journalists. The only problem with journalists is the minimum salaries. You can’t make ends meet. You get very little salary from your companies, and because of that there is a compromise. Journalists are the first citizens in other countries, but here (Kenya) they have made you just like they have our police men.” Mburu said.
Mr Mburu proceeded and declared that there would be no good journalism in the country if journalists were underpaid.
Wackier tales have been told of how most members of the Fourth Estate party where alcohol is flowing like river Nile; the same way we take our problems to Jesus Christ! That is the same manner our relatives bring their financial problems to us thinking tukikohoa, the whole town stops running.
Villagers will see you on TV, listen to you on radio or read you stories on newspapers. And they will be thinking that their son or daughter is very famous and rich. Too bad, like Mr Mburu observed, this perception does not extend even close to our pockets.
After the 200/08 chaotic general elections, it’s on record that newsrooms mushroomed in Kenya like never before. But some of the profession’s fine talents have since exited for corporate communications, others becoming communication assistants to politicians. Still, some journalists have even ventured in politics, themselves.
“There are obvious reasons for discomfort with it, but it’s exceedingly common (to run for office), and it’s even more common to go and work for politicians,” said Suanne Kelman, a journalism professor at Ryerson University.
Today, a radio station based in Nairobi is said to be losing some of its best talents to competitors due to salary delays and lack of salaries altogether. A journalist who in 2018 resigned from said station (name hidden) claims she had to stomach the idea of not getting her five months’ salary and quit.
The said station is equally battling several lawsuits filed by aggrieved former employees who resigned months after being lured into the trap. You see, it has always been a wonder to Kenyans why we cannot have free and fair elections. It is the same when asking how this radio station’s management is paying its monthly electricity bills and rent.
Just thinking loud. Shall “brown envelope” journalism (bribery-based journalism) be a thing of the past in an environment such as ours? I am a journalist, and I must admit, bitterly so; corruption in our profession is worse than corruption in the police force.
Worse still, debate on corruption in the media shall continue to cloud roundtable meetings in five – star hotels around the country. If a correspondent is paid the same way as is a bar attendant, then nothing good should be expected in our way of doing journalism. We also should not expect watchdog journalism, if looks (beauty) rather than content of a journalist’s brain is used to determine onscreen talents.
Keen and honest observes will tell you it is trash!