• December 4, 2023

Are Journalists Being Exploited? Reacting to Vickie Remoe’s Article “Underpaid and Exploited: The Harsh Reality For Sierra Leone’s Young Journalists”

Are Journalists Being Exploited?  Reacting to Vickie Remoe’s Article “Underpaid and Exploited: The Harsh Reality For Sierra Leone’s Young Journalists”
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By Kemoh Saidu Sesay

I find Vickie’s thoughts on the exploitation of many young professional journalists quite intriguing. Since I’m a media graduate who has enjoyed the short luxury of working in and with newsmen, it behoves me to expand this enriching conversation that is clouding the viability of Sierra Leone’s media landscape.

The underpayment and exploitation within the realm of professional journalism in Sierra Leone hold significant implications that stretch far beyond financial constraints, impacting the integrity, depth, and diversity of news reportage. A poignant case that illustrates these effects is ever visible but quite neglected in Sierra Leone, where journalists face multifaceted challenges in their pursuit of delivering accurate and comprehensive news coverage. Within Sierra Leone, the perceived flourishing media landscape is marred by a combination of factors, including low wages, limited resources, and vulnerability to political pressures.

Many young media graduates with huge expectations work tirelessly under precarious conditions, often with minimal compensation, which severely affects their ability to dedicate time and resources to in-depth investigative reporting. As Remoe bravely asserts “media companies exploit young journalists, offering “visibility” instead of fair pay and livable wages.” As a result of this sad but true reality, the quality and scope of news coverage are compromised, with many crucial stories left unexplored due to resource constraints and professional ethics thwarted. The financial strain on journalists in Sierra Leone directly correlates to the broader impact on the profession itself. It’s no doubt that the frontpages of our local papers are flooded with the same PR stories with little or no human interest angles.

“Most journalists who don’t engage in unethical practices receive less than $100 a month to live on.” Affirming Remoe’s claim, underpaid professional journalists often juggle multiple jobs or freelance assignments to make ends meet, leaving them with little time and energy to focus on their primary journalistic endeavours. This perpetuates a cycle where quality reporting becomes a secondary concern to financial stability, hindering the profession’s growth and potential impact on society.

Moreover, the issue of exploitation extends beyond monetary compensation. Young journalists in Sierra Leone often face in-house censorship from their editors when reporting on sensitive topics or being critical to powers that be. This outlandish form of censorship creates a chilling effect on journalism, where self-censorship becomes a means of self-preservation, ultimately limiting the freedom of the press and the public’s right to quality human interest stories and not event management promotions. As Remoe claims that a good number of the well “trained and experienced journalists” are quickly exiting the profession they once cherished with pride in pursuit of greener opportunities “as public relations managers, media advocates, or communications managers.”

The exploitation and underpayment of professional journalists also have reverberating effects on the diversity and inclusivity of reporting. In Sierra Leone, marginalised voices, including those from hard to reach rural areas or minority groups, are often underrepresented and underreported in mainstream media especially the Print media due to limited resources and biassed editorial priorities. This lack of diverse perspectives diminishes the depth and accuracy of reporting, perpetuating societal imbalances and hindering a more holistic understanding of complex issues. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach that involves both structural changes and a shift in societal attitudes towards journalism. At this point, the Independent Media Commission (IMC), the Media Reform Coordinating Group-Sierra Leone (MRCG-SL), Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and other key stakeholders in the media industry need to explore sustainable ways to encourage and support media companies for fair labour practices in order to empower journalists and elevate the standards of reporting.

In conclusion, we must remind ourselves that “young media practitioners are among the most underpaid professionals, yet they are expected to report the news and investigate public interest stories.” The impact of underpayment and exploitation on professional journalists in Sierra Leone is profound and far-reaching. It not only impedes the quality and depth of news reporting but also erodes the fundamental principles of a free and vibrant press. Recognizing and addressing these challenges are imperative not only for the well-being of journalists but also for the preservation of an informed and democratic society.

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