A young journalist was forced to leave his job after he wasn’t paid for 10 months. He then went to Malaysia for manual labor
Hundreds of journalists from around the globe gathered in Kathmandu a few weeks ago and shared their experiences of how their stories had helped ordinary people and even forced top-level bureaucrats and politicians to resign, including the president of the Philippines.
They were all investigative journalists. I didn’t take part in the conference but was following twitter feeds of many friends and former colleagues who were participating. While reading their tweets, I was thinking of my friends whom I regard as fine journalists in Nepal.
And I remembered how they were victimized by the management or even senior staffs in the organizations where they worked. Let me give you a few examples, although I will withhold the name of the organizations and colleagues for their safety.
A woman journalist had been with a news organization for eight years. She gave it her all, never complaining about the long hours. One day she was ill and had to be admitted to a hospital. Her line manager bluntly informed her, over the phone, that either she had to immediately report for duty or she would be fired. She resigned from her hospital bed. The story doesn’t end here.
When she joined a new office, she was offered a better salary. But after she actually started her new work, she was asked to sign a contract which said that she would get half the amount that was initially promised to her. It was for tax reasons, she was told.
She can't fight against the organizaiton because there was no paperwork to validate her claims.
She was promised that the rest of her salary would be deposited in her personal bank account.
But a year into her employment, she was yet to get her full salary. Meanwhile the manager kept assuring her that all her past dues would be cleared soon. It never happened.
She still worked for this organization for eight years before she resigned. She can’t fight against the organization because there was no paperwork to validate her claims.
Ironically, she used to write investigative stories of how manpower companies cheat workers by forcing them to sign two contracts.
She now realizes it was a mistake to trust her manager. This is not an isolated case.
Many other journalist friends have faced similar problems.
Recently, I met another friend who was very upset and frustrated because of his employer. He left a good position after another news organization promised to pay him a monthly salary of Rs 18,000, Rs 5,000 more than his previous employer. Yet he was made to sign a contract that said he would get only Rs 12,000 a month. This friend of mine was also never given the promised amount.
It’s been five years in the new job for him. He worked seven days a week for first six months. “I can’t leave my job because I am not from Kathmandu and I have to look after my parents back in the village,” he says. “And I can’t fight against this giant media house.”
I tried to remind him: you are a journalist and you should speak against this injustice. But he seemed helpless.
Again, both these journalists represent big media houses in Nepal. Now you can imagine the situation of journalists working in other ‘small’ media houses.
I want to bring a reference of a young man who was forced to leave his job as he wasn’t paid for 10 months and had to finally leave the country for employment in Malaysia.
Shyam Thakur, a barber’s son, used to work for a popular private television station.
This person who has great passion for journalism and has a Bachelors’ degree and several journalism trainings to his credit now works as a manual laborer in Malaysia, earning Rs 15,000 a month. But Thakur was cheated even by his manpower company who had promised him Rs 30,000 a month.
Not long ago a famous editor/publisher said at a public program, “Newspapers can’t give both job and salary. Providing job is good enough.” This reflects the perception of many media owners in Nepal.
Recently I met yet another friend from Mahottari district who works for a TV station in Kathmandu. When he came to collect his salary in Kathmandu he was told to find advertisers in his district so that they could pay his salary.
I often travel to different districts where I meet many stringers reporting for several media outlets in Kathmandu. I hardly find anyone satisfied with the remuneration they get.
“The charming part of being associated with a media organization is the respect you get in the district and other indirect benefits,” they say.
There have long been discussions about minimum wages for journalists, but to no avail.
The book Shramejeevi Patrakar Media Addhyayan Prativedan, 2067 which includes a study of past and present situation of working journalists in the country revealed that 45 percent of journalists had not received any official appointment letter and 37 percent were not getting minimum wages. This was in 2012. The situation hasn’t changed much.
I am not sure whether the bodies formed to monitor and regulate such activities will be able to punish these organizations, at a time when they themselves are guided by political ideologies.
But managers should understand that they are making good money because of their employees’ hard work. If employees are kept happy, they will pay back, many times over.
Moreover, the journalists who dare to expose the wrongdoings at the mightiest state organs, should also dare to come forward and openly talk about their professional woes.
The author is currently working as the Communication, Learning and Documentation officer for the ECHO project that helps quake victims rebuild their homes