By Samuel G. Dweh, Freelance Journalist
The highest salary owners of private media institutions in Liberia are giving their reporters is US$200. This amount covers transportation—to scavenge out ‘news story’ from around town—lunch (or brunch if you didn’t take breakfast because you had to leave home early to get breaking news), and recharge cards to call a newsmaker to balance the story.
To my knowledge, only one private or independent media institution is giving this amount.
Many of the others are giving US$100, or below. Some are giving US$50.
This has been the major contentious issue in the community of Liberia’s private/independent media, beginning from resuscitation of the nation’s journalism sector after the end of the civil war, which started in 1989.
Each leadership of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), the nation’s umbrella for individual media practitioners and institutions, has called on all media owners to pay at least US$200—the amount only one is giving—as salary to their reporters across the board.
Private media owners feel this appeal—or mandate—as a bitter pill to swallow.
The advocacy for ‘at-least-US$200’ started from the leadership of Peter Quaqua, PUL’s 21st leader, in 2008. The mandatory document for this advocacy is called the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)
However, Mr. Quaqua couldn’t bend any owner of media institution toward the ‘salary component’ of the CBA; neither could Mr. Quaqua’s successor, Mr. Kamara Abdullai Kamara, who led from 2014 to 2017.
Kamara’s successor, Mr. Charles Coffey Jr., appears to be frantically pushing this ‘benchmark’ salary onto the media employers’ salary checks for reporters.
On the low salary debate, media employers often give either of two excuses: The independent media is not making enough money to give US$200 to any reporter; reporters do not have enough experience (writing knowledge) for the task assigned to them.
True, many reporters don’t and can’t write well (no sufficient training at the Mass Communication or journalism institutes they attended), and postwar independent media in Liberia is not making “enough money”—except for those closer to the government, or Liberia’s international development partners doing Public Relations.
This salary matter is omitted in the new (revised) 14—Article Code of Ethics for Liberian Journalists, which was launched on April 25, 2017, at the Monrovia City Hall. “Money” is not mentioned in any of the articles!
Liberian reporters are poor—a topic that is now a cliché—mostly based on low salary. And they indulge in negative (often blackmail) reportage to extort money from the subjects, or do Public Relations stories for ‘rich bad people’ or companies. What they get from this blackmail or PR supplements the paltry amounts they accept from their employers.
On several occasions, the United States Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), comes in to help Liberian journalists report responsibly. This intervention often comes through workshops on training in “development reporting” for reporters assigned to media institutions. The leadership of the PUL often spearheads the workshop.
But these USAID-sponsored workshops seem not to be achieving their objectives: Destructive attitudes continue to come out of beneficiaries of USAID-support workshops; the transportation fare given at the workshops can’t take them to the end of the money.
Another problem—often heralded by many—is the PUL leadership’s use of one set of reporters (attached to popular media institutions) as beneficiaries for workshops sponsored by USAID or UNDP—the second organization that provides regular training support for Liberian journalists next to USAID.
Besides leaving out the reporter salary issue in the new Code of Ethics for Liberian journalists, the leadership of the Press Union of Liberia omitted the “female media representation” to the National Media Council part of the Code.
The Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL) is unhappy with this omission, considering it a gender-imbalance by the PUL leadership. A member of FeJAL confronted PUL president Charles Coffey on the omission at FeJAL’s office on April 26, 2017.
Owners of media institutions and the leadership of the Press Union of Liberia often chide government officials on low salary for workers and gender-imbalance in government ministries.
Why have the critics failed on what they lambasted other people for?
Samuel G. Dweh is an indigene of ‘educationally backward’ Wedabo ethnic group of Grand Kru County; a product of ‘demonized’ West Point Township in Montserrado County; is journalist, creative writer, author and member of Liberia’s writers’ groups: Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and Association of Writers (LAW).
He can be reached via:
+231 886 618 906/ +231 776 583 266