- Panelists discussing journalism and the media in crisis have painted a worrying picture of the industry.
- According to the chairperson of the Association of Independent Publishers, community media has suffered the most.
- MTN SA executive Jacqui O’Sullivan believes corporate SA has a responsibility to ensure there is a strong media.
Community media has seen a drop in audience numbers and is suffering because advertising from the government has been dwindling for a number of years, according to Wandile Fana, the chairperson of the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP).
But Fana added that there was now an opportunity for community media to be innovative and to find ways to make digital sales in order to be sustainable.
Fana was part of a panel discussing journalism and the media in crisis – especially in a time of Covid-19 – during a webinar hosted by the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and the Social Justice Initiative (SJI).
Sanef management committee member, and Newzroom Afrika political editor, Sibusiso Ngalwa, and MTN South Africa Corporate Affairs executive Jacqui O’Sullivan were also part of the panel.
Fana acknowledged that pressures in the community media sector started long before the virus hit South African shores, with publications having had to shut their doors.
He said, under the hard lockdown, many local newspapers were unable to print and, as such, received no advertising revenue. This revenue is the bread and and butter of community media.
“You must understand that, with community media, unlike mainstream media, there is no separation between the newsroom and the business. Many of them are really struggling from everywhere. In the Eastern Cape, at some point we had close to 50 local newspapers and now we are sitting at about 18 to 20 community newspapers, and that’s not good for the community and a democracy,” Fana said.
He said newspapers were not just important because of the news content, but also because of diversity, in that it promotes access to information in different languages as well as creating archives of history.
Fana noted that many well-known, mainstream journalists cut their teeth at community publications, highlighting the importance of the sector as a training ground.
Speaking as to what can be done to obtain funding for community media, Fana said it depended on what the entire industry was going through.
“The problem with print is that it needs us, community media, to come up with innovative and fresh ideas, which some people are doing.
“It’s a situation where times are changing and we also need to change with the times. We have to be innovative [and] come up with new ideas in terms of how can we create revenue in our communities, and at the same time produce the relevant news.
“The government advertising is totally lacking, since the takeover by the state capture from 2012. It’s been lacking to community newspapers. We don’t know how we are surviving,” the chairperson said.
Fana also expressed a concern that there were some executives in holding companies bagging millions of rands in bonuses, while journalists were being sacked.
Ngalwa said Covid-19 came as a shock to the media sector and did not give print media an opportunity to shift to digital, which has resulted in some titles having to close down.
O’Sullivan said it was the responsibility of corporate South Africa to ensure there was a strong media industry, which was why MTN SA decided to support Sanef’s relief fund for journalists in distress.
Freelancers, contract or permanently employed journalists, who were retrenched, or had their contracts cancelled since the implementation of the lockdown on 26 March, are eligible to apply.
MTN SA has contributed R500 000 to help start the fund.
Ngalwa said Sanef had already received over 200 applications for the fund. He added that the closing date for those who still wished to apply was 17 July.
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A panel comprising senior journalists will assess the applications and appropriately issue the funds.
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