The great men and women of the media, the pioneers of print and electronic media in Kenya had a good time working in the media back in the day. The days the likes of Kwendo Opanga, Magesha Ngwiri, Macharia Gaitho, Emman Omari, Mukalo wa Kwayera, Philip Ochieng’, Hillary Ng’weno, Dorothy Kweyu, Mutegi Njau et’al enjoyed working in the media. The days the likes of Khamis Themu, Ngulamu Mwaviro, Njoroge Mwaura, Esther Githui, Jacob William Maunda (RIP), Gladys Erude, Amina Fakii, Sophie Kilei, Lena Kitheka, and Eddy Fondo (RIP) et’al sat behind the microphone happily knowing that their lives depended on what they do.
Most of us who admired becoming broadcasters and writers as we grew up, knew only one thing, ‘there is eternity in working in the media’. Listening to Karani Laban or Dancan Irungu or Anaklet Araba or Mary Chelagat or Anderson Kalu present news on the Voice of Kenya (VoK) which later became the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) was exhilarating. It made us tune to radio more to listen to the beautiful voices that entertained us during those days.
When I grew up and joined the world of Media, I knew very well that my road to perpetuity in my dream career had come. I was so excited sharing moments with great men and women who defined the media industry. In early 2000s, as a pussyfooter, I was cautious and eager to learn the ropes.
Those were the days I saw the older broadcasters and men and women on the media who had served diligently to their retirement age bow out gracefully and leaving a mark. Basically, it is the intention of anyone who joins employment gracefully, retire graciously on the attainment of the retirement age as per the law.
That was then, perhaps when the media recognized the value of the men and women they employed to inform and entertain the public. But now, with the liberalized airwaves, and the advent of many private radio and television stations, the value of human resource continues to diminish and arbitrary dismissals have fast replaced the gracious retirement that workers in the media industry enjoyed.
My good friend Ms. Sharon Barang’a posted the following after she was sacked from NTV where she has served diligently and with all her heart for years; “I have lost my dad & job in one month…it is well. I am hanging in there. Thank you all for the calls, messages & prayers”. This broke my heart as did too many other people who showered her with messages of sympathy.
Sharon is not alone. The past two months have seen many people lose their jobs in the media. The young men and women who had just begun realizing their dream and trying to put one plus one together to make two for their lives are now rendered jobless and in full glare of the public, put to shame and despondency for no reason at all.
A few days ago, the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Films Classification Board Dr. Ezekiel Mutua (himself a journalist) penned down on his social media platform what befell him in the morning of 2002. He told his fans of how he received with shock the sacking letter at a leading media house where he had worked for close to nine years. He says it is after his dismissal that he realized he needed to pull up his socks to make it in life. He is now where he is as a result of the struggles he has gone through.
It is worrying seeing how some media houses have now resorted to primitive ways of dismissing their staff, not in the ILO recommended procedures, but through suable means like sending texts via SMS. It is demoralizing and heartbreaking.
The number of media personnel who have been rendered jobless in the past two months is alarming. It’s bound to continue rising. There is a media house that recently sent her staff home without anything to take home. These men and women have families and dependents. But the employer cares less about this.
I am just wondering if I will be in order to say that the media lost its soul a long time ago when the owners became insensible to the needs of their employees! When an employer chooses to disenfranchise their employees by sacking them without notice, it beats the purpose of having the existing laws.
To help save private media firms from the ‘use’ and ‘dump’ attitude on their employees, there is need for the enactment of laws that provide for a humane way of sending people home without subjecting them to undue humiliation and torture.
The Media Owners Association (although a club for the rich) needs to come up with a good exit strategy for their workers when they feel the wage bill is above their reach.
In the words of a popular television host Mr. Debarl Inea, who suffered the same fate, “it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. Thank you NMG for the opportunity. Work continues apace”, life has to go on.
The writer is the Director of Communications of the ODM Party.