The SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) on Sunday expressed concern over the “severe financial threat” faced by media houses during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“We have seen audiences soar as citizens seek information on health issues and the economy. 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,” Sanef said in a statement to commemorate World press Freedom Day.
It noted the decision by Associated Media Publishing to shut its doors, describing it as “one of SA’s pioneering independent media houses”.
“Also, several media houses have announced plans to cut salaries by up to 40 percent and/or to stop commissioning the services of freelance journalists.”
Sanef said freelancers were also deeply affected.
“A survey carried out by the SA Freelancers Association (Safrea) has shown the impact of the pandemic, with more than 50 percent of members having already lost more than 70 perpercent their income. Many freelancers have lost 100 percent, and because their work is often ad hoc rather than contractual, they have been turned down for government relief funding.
“Not only are jobs at stake, but media diversity and the production of quality news to provide verifiable information in the public interest should newsrooms, already under pressure, shrink or news organisations be forced to close,” said Sanef, adding that it had commissioned research on the impact of the coronavirus on the industry.
International news agency AFP reported on Friday that dozens of journalists have died worldwide from the novel coronavirus.
The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) warned that many journalists were putting themselves in harm’s way to report on the global crisis, with many falling ill from Covid-19 themselves in the process.
Since March 1, the PEC said it had recorded the deaths of 55 media workers across 23 countries from the virus, although it stressed that it remained unclear if all of them had become infected on the job.
“Journalists are at great risk in this health crisis because they must continue to inform, by going to hospitals, interviewing doctors, nurses, political leaders, specialists, scientists, patients,” PEC said in a statement.
Ecuador was the hardest-hit country, with at least nine journalists who had succumbed to the virus, followed by the US, with eight, Brazil with four, and Britain and Spain with three each, it said.