Media pay hikes trailing inflation

Chong Hiu Yeung, HKJA General Secretary 

[Nov 2011 - The Journalist] Inflation in July hit 7.9%, a record high in 16 years. But salary hikes for most journalists were in the 3-4% range. The difference between the two is just too stark.

Such incremental rates hardly catch up with the inflation rate.

At some media organisations increments averaged more than 7%. But that is only because the wage levels are abysmally low. Half of the journalists with 10 years' experience earn less than HK$20,000 a month. So the actual increments do not amount to much.

The increases also lag far behind those of the civil service and large-size companies. They represent only half of the government increases which range between 6.16% to 7.24%. This rate is determined by the Pay Trend Survey, which is based on the average increase rate of more than 100 local large-sized enterprises.

With the flood of information in this internet era, the print media is usually described as a “sunset industry”. Reporters cannot expect any decent salary increments. However, it seems that there is still some hope as more media organizations have entered the free newspaper market to fight for a bigger market share and more advertising opportunities for the print media.

The situation does not appear that bad when we look at the performances of listed print media companies. Except for Next Media (282) which recorded a loss because of its Taiwan television business, others such as Sing Tao (1105) and Oriental Press (18) have stable profit margins. The profit of HKET Holdings (423) even soared 80%.

Media Chinese (685), the parent company of Ming Pao, earned 106 million from March to June this year. However, profits before tax was only $13 million from both local and Mainland earnings. Ming Pao is only of its many local businesses.

Listed print media companies have a huge amount of cash. Oriental Press is estimated to have $2 billion cash in hand, Next Media and Media Chinese have about 0.9 billion. HKET Holdings, SCMP Group (583) and Sing Tao are holding 0.4-0.6 billion cashi. Since listed printed media companies generally do not have borrowing or the debit rate is low, their financial status is regarded as healthy.

Results of some electronic media are even better. For example, profits at TVB (511) and City Telecom (1137) soared. Unfortunately huge profits do not mean any sharing with the staff. It is a normal practice in some media organizations to lower the staffs’ expectations by claiming “unstable external economic environment”, “the economy next year might be turning bad” and “the business environment is still difficult”.

Many media organizations do not announce the average rate of salary increment on the notice board anymore since the average increase rate for different kinds of journalists is not the same. For example, an increment rate for a supplement reporter of a particular newspaper is lower than Hong Kong daily news reporter because supplement reporters write less than a Hong Kong daily news reporter per day.

But it is not prudent to lower journalists’ salary increment due because of deficits or profit reductions. Media companies need to keep in mind the consequences of losing talented staff, decline in quality of news and newsroom morale. A management executive at a TV station once said with a bitter smile that he lost one to two dozen outstanding journalists to other industries every year. SCMP has lost a lot of reporters in recent times probably because it cut the bonus and froze salaries in recent years. Journalists with low salary often become the poaching targets of competitors.

At Next Media which has recorded a loss because of its Taiwan TV business, the average increments still reached 4%. Other media organizations definitely can afford higher increments. It is not reasonable that the increments cannot match inflation. The economy of Hong Kong was very good last year. The Journalist hopesthe increment rate of media organizations can at least match inflation so journalists can share in the fruits of our economic growth.

i 12 July 2011, Ming Pao