By Wendy Mangale
The Kenya Editors’ Guild is concerned about the difficulties facing the media industry since the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic, particularly what it refers to as “indications that some media houses may be taking advantage of the situation to enforce staff layoffs and salary cuts”.
In a press statement signed by its Executive Council, the Guild noted that more than 300 journalists had lost their jobs. “Journalists,” the statement read out at a press briefing at a Nairobi hotel on June 28 said, “face the double jeopardy of being victims of these economic travails as they continue facing the risk of infection while out in the field, and further difficulties operating in an environment of curfew, movement restrictions and lockdowns.”
It further noted: “We understand that some of these measures, however painful, are absolutely necessary during a period of drastic declines in revenue. Some media houses may have to shut down altogether if they do not find ways to survive until the pandemic ends and a normal business environment resumes.”
Terming some of the austerity measures, such as retrenching employees via SMS , as unfair, the Guild cautioned that, “Laying off workers in any Industry is not a matter to be treated casually. It should involve a humane, caring and participatory process, together with supportive measures such as counselling, psychosocial support and preparation of change.”
It called for an urgent stakeholders convention to explore possible joint approaches to the problems facing the sector. Stakeholders would include the Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Correspondents Association, Association of Media Women in Kenya, the Media Owners Association, regulatory bodies such as the Media Council of Kenya and the Communications Authority as well as the Ministry of Information, Communications & Technology.
The editors want the stakeholders to push for the establishment of a Media Sustainability Fund similar to what is already in place in Europe, the United States and some African countries. These, says the Guild, have been put in place “out of the recognition that media occupies a vital place in times of national and international crisis”.
“There’s an opportunity when we have this convention of stakeholders to look at situations where even government has to chip in to support the media because of the essential role that we play. While we cannot dictate right now to the government on what it can pay for and not pay for, we think that if we sit together and reason with them, we can come up with a solution where things like masks and sanitisers and testing for journalists should be provided the same way they do for medical staff.” – Pamella Sittoni
KEG also asked the national and county governments to clear any pending bills owed to media houses to enable them to sustain their operations. It further urged the Communication Authority to waive broadcasting licensing and signal carriage fees to ensure continued diversity in media. In addition, they asked the government to provide tax incentives for the industry as part of a package to “ensure survival in these difficult times”.