The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has sounded the alarm over threats to press freedom during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as jobs that are being lost in the industry and freelancers who are losing their income during the lockdown.
In its statement to mark World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, Sanef noted that journalists are regarded as designated essential workers who are out to provide people with news about the pandemic, but at the same time, the industry is under severe pressure.
"We have seen audiences soar as citizens seek information on health issues and the economy," Sanef noted.
"However, while journalism plays its critical role, simultaneously it has also been under severe financial threat as the lockdown has prompted advertisers to rein in spending and made it difficult to circulate newspapers and magazines."
In the past weeks:
- Associated Media Publishing's CEO Julia Raphaely announced that the company would stop trading on Friday, 1 May, which meant that Cosmopolitan, House and Leisure, Good Housekeeping and Women on Wheels closed.
- The Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) issued a distress call for help for around 200 independent community print publications across the country. Its requests include that 30% of government advertising go to community publications, and that money the Competition Commission received after advertising irregularity fines be used to help keep independent media companies afloat.
- The AIP was also concerned about the short time the Media Development and Diversity Agency gave for people in the media to apply for emergency relief.
- Several media houses have announced plans to cut salaries by up to 40% and/or to stop commissioning the services of freelance journalists.
- Caxton has cut back on printing its community newspapers in some areas.
Community media journalists and freelance workers do not have the traditional protections of paid sick leave, insurance and funds from the Unemployment Insurance Fund to tide them over.
A survey by the South African Freelancers' Association showed that more than half of its members had lost more than 70% of their income.
Many had lost all of their work, and because it is ad hoc, they were turned down for government relief funding.
The Committee to Protect Journalists marked World Press Freedom Day by highlighting the plight of journalists who are in jail, or who have disappeared.
It will also discuss these issues in a three-part webinar series to honour World Press Freedom Day.
One will be held between noon and 13:00 on Sunday. To join, register here before 11:00.