In part two, more MCJN members recount their experiences with local and foreign media who either stalled on payment, or failed to pay altogether.
All Arabic and foreign media outlets that I’ve worked with as a freelancer are slow when it comes to payment. It could take at least a month or two, and sometimes it could take up to a year. But we have to accept this situation because job opportunities are scarce.
There is a prevalent culture of “shame” when it comes to money. If you ask about money, you’re accused of being “materialistic”
In one instance, I had to chase an Arabic platform for an entire year just to be paid $75. I had been writing for them for a while, and we had agreed on the rate beforehand. But all of a sudden, and without prior notice, they decided they would only pay me in one installment for every five articles. I wasn’t informed about this beforehand. This means that I would have to wait until they publish five of my articles, which could take several months, especially because they don’t accept all of my proposals. When I objected, they told me that they would pay for one or two articles, provided that these are the last articles that I write for them. So I decided to stop working with them altogether and claimed the rest of my fees. It took them a whole year to pay this.
There were times when I was too embarrassed to ask about the money, only to realise that the pay was very low. This is why I decided to ask about the terms of payment before I go ahead with the job because journalism is my only source of income. There is a prevalent culture of “shame” when it comes to money. If you ask about money, you’re accused of being “materialistic”. But it is our right to claim compensation for our efforts. It’s not a favour from anyone.
My experience with foreign (non-Arabic) media is generally better because they have clear procedures. Most of them pay within a month of receiving the invoice. But I’m having trouble with the Arabic-language version of an international website, which takes 2-3 months to pay. I’ve been having to chase their accountant constantly, and they often tell me they’re having trouble with the banks or that they would pay me “as soon as possible”, only for me to have to contact them again.
Once, I was commissioned by a website to produce an in-depth feature and a photo essay. I had to work with an editor on the photographs, and I paid him 800 Egyptian Pounds ($50) because I thought I would be reimbursed by the website. But after I sent them all the material, they didn’t publish them. I kept writing to them but their replies were vague. They kept stalling and refused to set a date for publication. Eventually, I had to find another platform to publish the report, but sadly I couldn’t publish the photo essay.
I’ve been working as a journalist for 17 years. I started off as an intern, and I did this for two years without pay. I was ok with that because I wanted to gain some experience and establish a name for myself. After that, I started earning 100 Shekels ($28) a month. But in 2008, during the war on Gaza, I started working with a local agency, without pay, and I continued to do so until 2011. I was too shy to ask for money and I was hoping they would take the initiative and offer it to me without me having to ask. After that, I started working with the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, and for the first time I was earning a decent salary without having to chase for it. I stayed with them for 5 years, then I moved on to work as a freelance reporter, fixer and translator for foreign media.
I found out, by coincidence, that this “sponsor" was getting $400 for the same work that I was doing. This was a huge shock to me because I was only earning $28
During the war in 2012, I was getting work through so-called “sponsors”. This is when a journalist passes an assignment on to other journalists because he’s too busy. I was getting 100 Shekels a day only for this work. I would go to the field with foreign crews and work for 12 hours in extremely dangerous conditions. None of them offered me protective equipment. I don’t know what would’ve happened to me had I gotten injured during work. Would they have provided treatment or compensation to me? I think it’s unlikely because there was no insurance. The BBC was the only channel that actually gave me a contract with guaranteed medical cover in case something happened to me.
I found out, by coincidence, that this “sponsor” was getting $400 for the same work that I was doing. This was a huge shock to me because I was only earning $28.
Once, a journalist from a well-known American newspaper asked me to cover the Great March of Return along the borderline of Gaza in 2017. That was a few days after US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. I went out to cover the demonstrations and I wrote the piece. I didn’t think of asking about the payment because I thought it was a foregone conclusion. But after I sent the report, I asked that journalist about payment and he told me they weren’t going to pay me as they considered this a trial, and that I might get paid on other assignments. I reached out to the editor of The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network for advice and she told me not to go into the field and put my life at risk for free. I wrote back to the newspaper and told them I would be prepared to cover the demonstrations for them only if they pay me. They never replied.
After I graduated from college with a degree in journalism, I started training with an Egyptian newspaper for six months without pay. After the training period was over, I worked for another two months without pay. When I received my first monthly salary in 2013, it was 390 Egyptian Pounds ($25). This salary was hardly enough for anything. I pleaded many times before they finally gave me a modest raise, but I felt humiliated.
They started deducting from my salary as a “disciplinary” action... management was unhappy about personal opinions that I was expressing on my social media accounts
It was hard work. We were expected to deliver 11 pieces each day: news copy, video reports, translations of international news, and the horoscope (yes! I was expected to write the horoscope as well). I would have to work late in the office to deliver all of this, and if I didn’t deliver 11 items everyday they would deduct from my salary.
In the last few years of my employment, they started deducting from my salary as a “disciplinary” action. The accounts department told me the management was unhappy about personal opinions that I was expressing on my social media accounts. Once, I was surprised when they deducted 1250 Egyptian Pounds ($78) when my salary was barely 1700 ($106) at the time. The editor told me it was because I criticised a well-known senior journalist on Facebook. Finally, I left them in 2018.
As a freelancer, a well-known Arabic channel once asked me, via their bureau in Cairo, to produce a number of video reports for them. We agreed on the fee in advance and I rented the equipment and produced the material accordingly. But when I asked to be paid, their Cairo producer refused to pay me and claimed that the material I submitted was not suitable for them, and they would not be using it. But how is that my fault? I delivered the work as agreed and I should be paid for my work and effort, regardless of whether they used the material or not.
I didn’t chase them again because I’m embarrassed to talk about money. It makes me feel as if I’m begging and I would rather go quiet than feel humiliated.