Over the last five months, journalists in Kenya and elsewhere in the world have found themselves working on stories that impact on them directly.
Journalism, just like other professions is experiencing disruptions due to the impact of the novel coronavirus.
Since the first case of coronavirus was reported early March, the deadly bug has hit hard on the profession, leaving hundreds of journalists in the country jobless and many others have been forced to survive on low pay.
“Our listeners, readers and viewers should understand this is a global pandemic that has hit the world and Kenya, everyone including journalists and the economy is affected,” says freelance journalist, Samuel Owida.
While journalists have been keeping the nation informed on socio-economic impact of the virus and key interventions taken by government, donors and other private stakeholders, majority of them are suffering silently in a struggle to make ends meet.
“We have been covering events where rice, flour and other foodstuffs are donated to those hit hard by the pandemic, but journalists have been forgotten, they just cover the event and will always get to their homes empty handed,” says Dave Opiyo, Kisumu based radio journalist.
Reduced advertising spend since March has forced media houses in the country to either cut pay, suspend certain benefits in cost-cutting measures to stay afloat.
Royal Media Services effected a pay-cut of between 20 and 30 per cent on all its staff and a number of employees in the station lost their jobs.
Mediamax Network Limited had had proposed a 50 per cent cut for high earners and a 20 per cent- 30 per cent for low earners before it was embroiled in a legal battle with employees.
The media house sent home over 1oo staff in June in cost cutting measures.
Since May, Nation Media Group journalists have been taking a pay cut of between 5 and 35 per cent depending on their gross pay.
In April, 15 media houses contributed Sh10 million each to COVID-19 Emergency Fund to aid in the fight against coronavirus pandemic.
The contribution was however not in cash and not targeted towards vulnerable journalists but in form of advertising space to boost COVID-19 awareness by government and other corporates advertisers.
The media houses are Royal Media Services, Standard Group, Nation Media Group, Mediamax, Kenya Broadcast Corporation, Radio Africa Group, Capital FM, TV47, Switch TV, Three Stones Media Limited, Radio 44, Media 7 Group, Kass Media Group, Family Media and Ebru Africa Limited.
In June, the U.S. Embassy Nairobi donated 1,000 facemasks to Kenyan journalists and media houses as part of on-going measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Things are however starting to look up. A group of journalists from Nyanza region have teamed up to the rescue of colleagues hardest hit by COVID-19.
Since April, a month after Kenya reported its first coronavirus positive case, the group through a solidarity initiative, Jofwambo for Jafwambo (Journalists for Journalist) has been raising funds; identify needy colleagues, organising purchase and distribution of food items in five counties through a WhatsApp group.
“The initiative has been necessitated by the feeling among us that some of us were negatively affected by the pandemic especially correspondents who are basically paid depending on their contributions and there was a strong feeling on how we can sacrifice the little we have so that we support them in any small way possible,” said Jofwambo for Jafwambo Nairobi Coordinator, Luke Awich.
A coordinator is selected in each County and given the mandate of identifying needy colleagues and in charge of distributions in their area. Meanwhile a funds drive with a set collection timeline goes on in the social media app. Each group member is encouraged to contribute any amount.
Beneficiaries are constantly called upon to register with their team leaders in confidence. Purchase of food items is budgeted based on number of beneficiaries identified in different phases.
“We deemed it necessary to start an initiative that also supports our vulnerable colleagues in different parts of the country. We have just completed distribution of food items for phase 2 across five counties,” says Jofwambo for Jafwambo Treasurer, Dickson Odhiambo.
Since April, a total of 72 scribes from Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Homa Bay and Nairobi counties have benefitted from the kitty.
“I continue to encourage colleagues to continue with the spirit of giving because these are tough times when most media houses experience difficulties in paying staff. Life has become unbearable for many,” says Star Newspaper reporter based in Kisumu, Faith Matete.
She adds, “I encourage my colleagues to be a brother’s keeper because you might think your decently dressed workmate is doing fine but deep down they know they are suffering.”
The group is gearing up for the third phase with a target to reach more affected journalists in the coming months.
“We are not relenting, we know our colleagues are still feeling the effects of COVID-19, we are soon kicking off Phase three which we hope will be much bigger in terms of the number of beneficiaries,” said Awich.
Kenya’s confirmed coronavirus cases currently stand at 19,913. There were 8,121 recoveries and 325 confirmed deaths by July 30.