‘We are Living by ‘Kato’

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The president of the Reporters Association of Liberia (RAL), Mr. Keith Zelee Morris, has termed the working conditions of Liberian journalists as “disastrous,” and is therefore, calling on relevant stakeholders to adopt the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) crafted by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). The Union crafted the document in order to improve the working and living conditions of journalists in Liberia.

Speaking at a one-day consultative dialogue in Monrovia, Saturday, April 19, Mr. Morris said most journalists in Liberia are earning salaries as low as US$50 and below. He said this situation compels journalists to live by receiving “cadeau” (French for “present" or "gift”). The term is better known in Liberian slang and among journalists as “kato”.

“We Journalists in Liberia are living on ‘kato’ from newsmakers," Morriss admitted. "This has to change because it is dehumanizing.  We are here discussing our welfare so we can call on media managers and owners to improve journalists’ working conditions and give them salaries to adequately sustain them.  We should not always be the ones to report on the welfare of other people while facing some of the worst conditions in our own workplaces,” Mr. Morris said.

According to the charismatic Reporters Association’s president, many journalists embarrass newsmakers for “perks,” sometimes threatening them (newsmakers) because they have no fixed salaries in their workplace, or because what they earn is very low.

He said if journalists’ salaries were attractive and they were offered benefits similar to workers in other sectors, they would be motivated to observe ethical rules of the media and avoid anything that would risk their jobs and their demean their profession.

During the consultative meeting, some journalists openly stated that their managers/editors instruct them to “go after” newsmakers because they have the money. These management teams tell journalists not to rely on their offices to pay them salaries and benefits since newspapers and radios survive on advertisement.

Mr. Morris used the opportunity to call on reporters in the Liberian media to exhibit ethical behavior for the sake of their own credibility and profession.

He said in spite of constraints and humiliating conditions regularly faced by many journalists, they should limit the amount of stories going after Legislators, the Executive Branch and the Judiciary. Instead, he advised them to pursue human interest stories that would put the common people in the news.

Mr. Morris said running a newspaper or a radio station is a business, and to accrue money to pay workers requires bringing in stories that would sell the paper or draw listeners to the station; causing more advertisements to come in.

The consultative dialogue held under the theme, “Setting Standards for Critical, Objective and Independent Reporting,” looked at the draft Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) crafted by the Press Union of Liberia, which sets standard conditions of service for Liberian journalists.

Other things in the CBA yet to be presented to media owners and managers for acceptance, is the minimum salary of US$150 to be earned by an employed journalist.

In addition, the CBA stipulates that annual leave be given to journalists and that they should receive benefits such as health care aside from the salaries they earn.

Former Press Union president, Peter Quaqua— whose administration crafted the CBA in Grand Cape Mount County— cautioned journalists to attach seriousness to their jobs as they contend for better working conditions and salaries.

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