The Pain Behind Those Bylines ... in view of Press Freedom Day


Whenever you see a byline sitting on top of a story in any newspaper, remember that the journalist with that name is fighting a war on two fronts.
On one front is the government that has issues with the media, on the other hand, are the media house owners who have no respect and regard for their workers.
While most journalists put up brave faces and machoism, inside, they are seething with anger because they cannot go anywhere with their problems - economic, social and even psychological.
Salaries are pathetic. Most journalists can't afford houses, school fees for their children, a simple car to carry them from point A to B. You see them running after taxis, sometimes even after covering a late night event.
They have no representation, and in most cases, those who try to organise others to stand up for their rights become management's victims.
Apart from the editors' forum, there is nothing to stand by the poor and struggling reporter who is the hitman when it comes to writing about sensitive news.
Even the editor's forum has been reduced into some lame dog yapping for non-existent crumbs. In any case, it would be folly to expect anything from this forum whose agenda is to represent editor - some of the people who are in media houses management.
By extension, editors are used as hitmen against journalists regarded as a threat by the media houses owners.
One would have thought that since journalists and media house owners push for workers' rights, they would be at the forefront of promoting the same rights in their workplaces.
The most affected are black journalists. And this is a fact because most of their white counterparts don't seem to struggle as much. Of course, some would pin this down to a saving culture, but again who saves what is not there?
Over the years, media house owners have been mourning about how the government is making it very difficult for accessing information and operate.
They have also been making a lot of noise about several other issues concerning the media except one - the welfare of their journalists.
This year again, we should expect more of the crying and the fawning against the government's shortcomings, which are many, of course.
But why are those concerned with the government's shortcomings not talking about the poor working conditions of the journalist? The foot soldier who does the donkey work. In recent times, the journalist has also become the hitman.
What press freedom should we be talking about if we don't talk about the welfare and the working conditions of the journalist?  Aand why is it that whenever this world press freedom day is celebrated, the journalist is forgotten.
There has never been a time when those so vocal about press freedom have spoken equally so loud about improving the journalists' circumstances. Instead, those who are very vocal about press freedom, are at the forefront of oppressing their workers - the journalist!
It is not a secret that most journalists who have stepped out to talk about how bad their working conditions are were targeted by management. To make it worse, there is no union for journalists, and they do not belong to any other existing union either.
If one uses South Africa's example, they find the Professional Journalists' Association of South Africa. Even the unemployed have their organisation - the Southern African Freelancers' Association.
Zambia also has the Zambian Union of Journalists, while Zimbabwe has the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. This is on top of these countries boasting of strong and robust Media Institute of Southern Africa branches.
While we as the media call on the government to be responsive to our demands, it is also time newspaper owners look at themselves too. They must call themselves to order and respect the worker. The double standards they are applying to the issue of rights and freedoms should end today.
The government is bad, yes but media owners are equally bad regarding labour relations. Apartheid is still alive and kicking in most media houses.