This week we celebrate the principles of press freedom, defend the right for journalists to continue to perform their duties without interference. This week also marks exactly one year since journalists from the then TISO Blackstar took to the streets to defend their rights to fair labour practices. The photo was taken outside TISO Blackstar offices in Parktown.
What many may not know is that a decision to embark on different forms of industrial action; starting with a go-slow, picketing and eventually a full blown strike, was not an easy one and it was taken after exhausting all avenues and options available to us in trying to reach a solution with the employer. Perhaps it’s important to mention that the disgruntlement did not come from lack of bonuses and salary increases only; as many newspapers reported about it. It was way deeper than that. It was about our dignity. Colleagues, journalists, were (and this is probably still the case in most newsrooms) struggling to make ends meet. Some of them complained everyday about not having enough money to get to work. Not enough to buy food. Food for infants sometimes.
One colleague was forced to resign because the company refused to give her back money that she has used while out on a story. The sad truth is that many journalists and photographers would have no breakfast before going out on location to cover stories. And because of the hostility of some editors – black editors – journalist would be too scared to say anything and only speak when leaving the premises. I listened to many sad and devastating stories from black journalists and black photographers respectively.
If it was not about having enough money to buy food, it was about not having enough for transport. Bonds became impossible to maintain for some, while some struggled to fix their cars and had to resort to public transport etcetera. Amagwinya became the daily breakfast for many. In fact the entire newsroom ate Amagwinya for breakfast; including news editors. And this is not because they loved Amagwinya so much, it was because they could not afford good nutritious food.I’m sure many who took part in the strike would agree with me that taking to the streets when we did gave us FREEDOM. It felt great. For once we broke the shackles; mental or otherwise. We spoke our minds. And although it was only for a couple of days, it felt good because we took back our power. We came together as media workers and decided to speak truth to power.
Many black people supported us from inside the newsrooms and simply refused to be on the streets with us. Some of them simply ignored our efforts or plight(one doesn’t quite know).Today, some news outlets are closing down and there’s no price for guessing who the first casualties are. Some outlets are cutting salaries in half without any considerations for their employees. This kind of treatment of journalists and media workers in general will not change without the coming together of the exploited bunch.The establishment of South Africa Media Personnel Organisation is an attempt at this. It was started in order to bring media employees together so that they can find ways to come up with “their own solutions for their problems”. Therefore its effectiveness is solely dependent on its ability to attract members. Registered members.
The more members, the higher the chances of achieving the objectives outlined in our constitution. These are to ensure excellence in the industry, transformation of ownership, setting up a bargaining council and finally to ensure unionization of the entire sector. The opportunity is there and a lot can be achieved if we move as a collective. Fear will get us nowhere and will ultimately impoverish all of us.