Kenya’s top editors have called for an urgent meeting of stakeholders to discuss the state of the media in the Covid-19 period and develop joint approaches to solve problems facing the industry.
More than 300 journalists have lost their jobs in the past nine months and the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) argues that the pandemic is likely to exacerbate an already dire situation.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Kenya, media houses have been laying off journalists and support staff, and enforcing pay cuts and KEG expressed concern that some of the austerity measures are being implemented in ways that are unfair to those affected, and in the long run will harm the practice of journalism in the country.
“We understand that some of these measures, however painful, are absolutely necessary during a period of drastic decline in revenues. 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,” KEG said in the statement, signed by its executive council.
The Guild expressed concern that some media houses may be taking advantage of the pandemic to enforce layoffs and salary cuts, warning that journalists now face the double jeopardy of being victims of the economic travails facing media houses.
“We are also distressed by the unprofessional methods employed by some, such as notifying employees by SMS, that they have been retrenched. 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 for change,” KEG said.
The editors want the stakeholders to push for the establishment of a Media Sustainability Fund to help the industry survive the crisis. Such funds are already in operation in Europe, the United States and some African countries.
“They have been put in place out of recognition that media occupies a vital place in times of national and international crisis.”
KEG says the convention should include other representative bodies, including the Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Correspondents Association, Association of Media Women in Kenya, Media Owners Association, the Media Council of Kenya, Communications Authority, and the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology.
The Guild also wants the national and county governments to make good on pending bills owed to the media houses to enable them to sustain their operations and for the Communication Authority to waive licensing fees and signal carriage fees to ensure continued diversity in media.
“The government should offer tax incentives for the media industry as part of a package to ensure survival in these difficult times.”