In Haiti, many journalists work for an income below the minimum wage threshold set by the state. A situation which weakens their profession
How do we effectively calculate the monthly income of a Haitian journalist who, according to the last minimum wage adjustment, is entitled to 550 gourdes per day? Should we exclude weekends (eight Saturdays and Sundays per month) and pay only week days? Should we simply multiply the daily wage by the number of days in a month?
Jacquenet Occilus, a lawyer, provides further clarification regarding these questions. According to him, in this context there are 30 days in a month. When we work on a monthly basis, we include holidays, Saturdays and Sundays. He maintains that an employee who rests on weekends also does so in order to better perform the following week.
The minimum monthly salary for a journalist is 16,500 gourdes
As a result, it is generally accepted that the minimum monthly salary for a journalist is 16,500 gourdes. According to the Superior Wages Council, this sum must constitute the minimum salary for any job in “sector A”, which includes the media.
Amounts below the minimum wage
Many journalists receive poor wages, some not even reaching half of the minimum wage of 16,500 gourdes. To verify this fact, we established a list of about thirty media (radios, televisions and newspapers) operating in Port-au-Prince with a newsroom where an editorial staff has been set up. In order to not distort the data, journalists multitasking within the media company were excluded from the survey.
Out of thirty (30) media companies analyzed, only eight offer salaries respecting the last adjustment of the minimum wage which dates back to November 2018. For the eight companies respecting the minimum wage, the lowest wages vary between 18,000 and 25,000 gourdes for professionals carrying out only one task within the media company.
21 of the 30 media outlets listed offer salaries below the limit set by law with regards to journalists. Two of these media outlets do not pay their journalists. According to the latter, the owners of these institutions irregularly distribute insignificant and random amounts to their employees.
Dirty linens washed as a family
At a radio station in the capital, a journalist who requested a leave was surprised to learn on his return that his salary had been reduced without his consent. According to him, the boss offered him 10,000 gourdes to simultaneously work as reporter and anchor of a news program which he must also produce himself.
Very often payments, although miserable, are made with great irregularity. A journalist who recently turned his back on a radio station tells the story of one of his former collaborators: “It is so difficult to collect your salary that last year a colleague died during an operation while the radio owed him eight months of work“.
If journalists working in media in Port-au-Prince are so mistreated, what about the correspondents? According to the data collected, the salary of a media correspondent in Port-au-Prince rarely comes close to 5,000 gourdes. In Cap-Haitian, for example, some press correspondents only earn 2,000 gourdes per month when they are called upon to cover activities throughout an entire department.
A threat to free information
With a career of eleven years in the Haitian press, the journalist Luckson Saint-Vil, winner of the Philippe Chaffanjon Prize 2019, knows this reality well. In such working conditions, he argues that journalists are exposed to corruption from members of the private and public sectors.
The former MINUSTAH FM and Radio Métropole journalist, who today provides his services to LoopHaiti, reveals that press professionals are becoming more and more vulnerable. “In his work, the journalist cannot criticize an actor who has already shown himself generous towards him”, he emphasizes.
Luckson Saint-Vil still remembers what happened at the National Palace under the presidency of Joseph Michel Martelly, at the end of 2014. “A group of journalists accredited to the National Palace were invited to a party at the palace and officials took the opportunity to distribute envelopes of 40,000 gourdes to the press workers present”. He claims to have returned the envelope to be able “to remain master of his pen and microphone”.
The quality of journalistic work suffers
In addition to vulnerability to corruption, Yvens Rumbold, who worked in the press, detects three other handicaps caused by the meager salaries that the majority of Haitian journalists receive. “When the journalist does not receive a reasonable salary, it prevents him from devoting himself to his work since he has no guarantee of being able to earn a living there. He does not find any incentive that could lead him to improve the quality of his work. He is not concerned about enlightening society and limits himself to the easiest tasks”.
So, with a salary that constantly forces his mind to be elsewhere, the journalist can only devote himself to fill-ins, to make an act of presence without any true concern about delving deeper into a subject matter.
Yvens Rumbold reports that “many media in Haiti prefer to hire professionals who have not followed reputable courses in order to justify giving them the lowest possible salary”. As a result, according to Yvens Rumbold, “we have the poorest possible journalists despite the fact that there are very good media candidates”.
The former head of “Enfòmasyon Nou Dwe Konnen” believes that such practices have serious consequences on the quality of the information provided by the media, which often does not go further than what the actors say or want to show, especially in press conferences.
AJH, “A general without a soldier”
When asked about the subject, the secretary general of the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH), Jacques Desrosiers confided “that the minimum wage set at 16,500 gourdes for segment A, concerns technicians and small staff of press companies and not journalists occupying a higher rank”.
Jacques Desrosiers also reveals the existence of glaring disparities between the salaries of certain journalists doing the same work, within the same media outlet. “Nobody knows on what basis the employers grant salaries, because there are no defining criteria” regrets the head of the association which is supposed to defend the interests of journalists.
Also read: Le problème de l’interview sur Métropole n’était pas le président, mais l’absence de journalistes
What is the AJH doing in this regard? Jacques Desrosiers confides that “the AJH is a general without soldiers” since “journalists are not interested in what should interest them”. According to him, these professionals are not ready to fight to change their working conditions and often prefer “loyalty towards a media chief rather than being loyal to each other”.
A Vicious Cycle
To carry out its mission to inform and educate citizens, the media needs well-trained journalists capable of specializing in sectors such as the economy, the law, diplomacy, politics, the environment, etc. This would allow them to better present and analyze facts relating to these sectors. But with such salaries, how can the Haitian press attract these kind of professionals?
In reality, most academics shun the media in favor of certain NGOs and international organizations capable of paying them decently.
Photo de couverture : Valérie Baeriswyl