Kenya: Pay Journalists Well Before Demanding Integrity, Speaker Muturi Tells Media Owners

Nairobi — National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has called on Media ownersin Kenya to ensure that journalists are well paid so as to protect their integrity.

Speaking during the World Press Freedom Day celebrations at a Nairobi Hotel, Muturi says journalists ought to be paid well to protect them from being captives of government and news sources

"Today is my day to ask media owners to pay our children, reporters and correspondents very well. They deserve it. These people go extra mile to get us the stories. Pay them well first and then demand integrity," Muturi said amid rising cases of integrity issues among journalists in what is mainly attributed to poor pay that has been made worse by the COVID-19 economic meltdown.

Muturi said by paying journalists well, they will be able to exercise their mandate with no influence from external forces who compromise their integrity and their work as professionals.

The Press Freedom Day celebration coincides with the 30th year-anniversary of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press, which led the United Nations to proclaim World Press Freedom Day in 1993.

Muturi further expressed concerns on the rate at which senior Editors were leaving newsrooms to venture into other sectors, at a time they are required to mentor young journalists.

"That place they are leaving is where their services are most needed. Media owners need to develop other business models in order to keep their businesses going so that we do not lose mentors for our young journalist professions," Muturi said.

The media in Kenya and around the world is straining financially, due to overreliance on advertisements which have shrunk since due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Others who spoke during the event whose theme is Information for Public Good, include Media Council of Kenya (MCK) Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson David Omwoyo and Maina Muiruri respectively who appealed to media owners to reinstate journalists' full salaries which were slashed over the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I want to thank Media Houses which have realized the need for human right to work and be compensated and have reinstated full pay of journalists. I would like to appeal to those who are yet to reinstate, to give priority as a gift for the World Press Freedom Day," Muiruri said.

Most media houses slashed salaries of their staff, including journalists by up to 50 per cent due to the shrinking advertising revenue.

According to Omwoyo, MCK statistics showed that since coronavirus struck last year in March, 300 journalists have contracted the virus in line of duty, 3 have died and 2,000 of them have experienced salary pay cuts ranging between 30-50 percent.

On Sunday, the sustainability question dominated a stakeholders meeting organized by the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) a day TO the World Press Freedom Day.

The COVID-19 pandemic was singled out as one of the biggest threats to the viability of newsrooms with the negative impact on the economy shrinking the source of income for media players.

Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General Eric Odour said: "We need to think of a stimulus package that is supported by the government. We also need a media sustainability fund to help the media conduct training, mentorship and research. We need to lobby the govt to come up with this fund."

He added that, "Media sustainability debate can only be viable if we fix working conditions of journalists to attract and retain talent and necessary skills as a priority,"

Cheryl Akinyi from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa said the media must come up with a different financing model.

"Resilience and innovation are going to be the name of the game as we look ahead. But it is all talk if we do not put our money where the mouth is," Akinyi said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Bernard Ogoi from the Journalists for Human Rights.

"With technology disrupting traditional media business models, can the media and media development partners consider a media sustainability fund that can help support struggling media houses?" Ogoi asked.

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