Why journalists need more freedom in the pocket
Today the world celebrates World Press Freedom day. As we celebrate the day, I am reminded that we are members of the ‘fourth estate.’ In the same league with the cabinet,the legislature and judiciary.
Despite the gains in press freedom in Kenya and indeed Africa, can members of the fourth estate celebrate this gain? What does a free press mean to a journalist? Does it only means easy access to information and freedom to publish(disseminate) the same? Can the press be grouped with the other three estates?
These questions remind me of a story a journalist friend of mine from Zimbabwe told me. I will share the story to help us reflect on this day.
“Joseph,” my friend Sam started. “We journalists are just taunted to be strong and famous but its all hot air.” Having pricked my curiosity I prodded him to go on.
“I remember one time when I was sent to cover a big function. The vice president was opening a farming project,I was excited when my Editor picked me to cover the function,”Sam started the narration.
It was a whole day function that would end with a big party.After the function he did not see the need to file the story that day. Sam decided to enjoy the temporary pleasure of partying in a 5-star hotel rubbing shoulders with the mighty and the rich. As usual like many journalists he got a lift from one of the politician guzzler, he noted that car consumed fuel in a day that could pay his salary. But he needed the ride and he got to the party venue.
Despite his poor taste in clothing (not as a result of taste but poverty) the gathered honorables kept him busy with numerous questions and small talk like he was a peer. All this was aimed at securing a mention in the newspaper the next day.
By midnight the honorables had left the party and off they went to their palatial abodes in the leafy areas of Zim. One by one they entered their Pajeros,Range Rovers and the Mercs . Nobody offered a lift to Sam. Within no time he was all alone and he did not have a single coin with him. It would also be unfair to call his boss at that ungodly hour. He did the most sensible thing-slept with the watchmen at the gate of this 5 star hotel which a few minutes a go he was one of the VIPs.
“My friend we are not the same with all these politicians whom we laugh with during the day. At night you walk back to your small dingy room with no cash in your pocket and we still say we are the fourth estate,” Sam told me when he finished the story.
We laughed then. Made jokes of the unfortunate situation. But inside us we knew that is not a problem of Zimbabwe journalists alone. Even in Kenya we face the same problem. We have great freedom to write what we want and dining with the mighty in the corridors of power. But when evening comes we retreat to our inhuman abode to face yet another lonely night. Until we can improve our livelihoods World Press Freedom Day will just remain a day of sweet speech.