Covid-19: Sanef launches relief fund for journalists who have lost jobs, income

  • The South African National Editors' Forum is launching a relief fund for journalists who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. 
  • Freelancers, contract and permanently employed journalists who were retrenched would be eligible to apply.
  • MTN SA has made a contribution of R500 000 to help start the fund. 

The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has announced the launch of a relief fund for journalists who have lost their livelihoods as a result of the Covid-19 national disaster.

Freelancers, contract or permanently employed journalists who were retrenched or had their contracts cancelled since the implementation of the lockdown on 26 March would be eligible to apply.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the forum said the purpose of the funding was to assist those in dire need with a small donation to purchase necessities.

"The Social Justice Initiative is acting as a fiscal host for the fund and will be playing an oversight role to ensure that all funds are fairly and transparently distributed," it said.

Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Mahlase has expressed gratitude to MTN SA for its contribution of R500 000 to help start the fund.

READ | Coronavirus: SA print media scrambling amid job losses, closure of publications - report

A team has been set up to help with applications. It includes media stalwarts Mathatha Tsedu and Joe Thloloe, Wandile Fana from the Association of Independent Publishers.

Melody Emmett from the South African Freelancers' Association and Anlo Financial Solutions, a financial services company, would also assist with processing applications.

Jacqui O'Sullivan, executive of corporate affairs at MTN South Africa, said citizens owed a tremendous debt of gratitude to reporters and editors who have braved harsh conditions every day to provide invaluable information which was helping save lives.

"In MTN's view, it is now imperative that the private sector steps in to offer financial assistance to ensure quality reporting standards can be maintained across digital, broadcast and print media platforms.

"To ensure communication channels remain open and the public gets information it can trust, MTN is proud to partner with Sanef to begin offering financial support and aid through a targeted relief fund for journalists."

She has encouraged large corporates, companies in supply chains, clients and individuals to help by contributing to the fund. 

Sanef said the relief fund announcement fulfils the promise it made to establish a fund.

"A promise we made when we launched our 'Covid-19 Impact on Journalism' Report in June 2020. 

"The report points to the devastation that Covid has wreaked on the industry - particularly the print media with the closure of two magazine publishers and 80 small print publications operating across the country, leading to the loss of over 700 journalist jobs.

"Also, the report pointed to the fact that freelancers had been particularly badly impacted and that 60% of their members had lost almost 70% of their income - and that some had lost 80% to 100%."

ALSO READ | Coronavirus and press freedom: Sanef sounds the alarm

Sanef said it was worried the collapse of the media in small towns, and the shrinking of the industry as a whole, would have a devastating long-term effect on the health of South Africa's democracy.

It said the fund was a small step to assist the industry and citizens to get the information they needed. 

Since the implementation of the lockdown, News24 reported that:

- 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.

- 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.

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