THE economic impact of the health disaster brought by COVID-19 is being felt at one of Africa’s biggest media houses.
South Africa’s Media24, the biggest media owner in that country, has announced that the tough economic times have forced it to consider closing some of its titles and substantially scale down some of its operations.
The closure is expected to lead to job losses in an industry decimated by the onset of COVID-19.
Media24 CEO Ishmet Davidson said the media group is considering the closure of five magazines and two newspapers, outsourcing and reducing the frequency of its remaining monthly magazines, taking two newspapers digital only and reducing staff in related support services.
Davidson said restructure is expected to affect around 510 staff members, with a proposed reduction of close on 660 positions, out of a total staff complement of 2 971, largely across the print media and distribution divisions.
He explained: “From the earliest days of the pandemic in South Africa, everything we’ve done focused on two main priorities. Firstly, the health and safety of our people, and secondly, business continuity – by implication also protecting employment for as long as possible.
“However, the pandemic has accelerated the pre-existing and long-term structural decline in print media, resulting in a devastating impact on our own already fragile print media operations with significant declines in both circulation and advertising since April. For many of our print titles the benefits of prior interventions to offset the structural declines and keep them on the shelf no longer exist and they’ve run out of options in this regard.
“Even with a return to pre-Covid-19 economic levels, the impact of the pandemic on our print media operations will be unrecoverable. Sadly, we have no choice but to restructure our business now to curtail the losses in our print portfolio and allow us to focus on keeping the retained titles sustainable and in print for as long as possible.”
The South African Editors Forum has expressed concern at the developments at Media24. The organisation is also worried after the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) announced that it wants to rentrentch 600 workers.
Said SANEF chairperson, Mahlatse Mahlase: ““We are painfully aware that any SABC and Media24 retrenchments in the media sector will exacerbate unemployment as mass retrenchments have hard-hit us since the beginning of the COVID19 lockdown. Last week Thursday SANEF launched a relief fund for journalists who had lost their livelihoods as a direct result of the COVID-19 national disaster. In April alone we saw the closure of two magazine publishers and 80 small print publications operating across the country, leading to the loss of over 700 jobs for journalists.
“We appeal to South African corporates to spend their advertising budgets with South African media consciously, and that the public should take up subscriptions and continue to buy local papers. We are concerned that the continuing closure of media houses will have a detrimental effect on our democracy as it limits the number of sources of information for the public, leads to regression in media diversity and multiplicity of voices. Since COVID-19 the process of newsgathering has transformed completely, and this element of personal danger is one of the most troubling changes for journalists. SANEF believes that the risks facing journalists remain unacceptably high for most, and tragically it has claimed the lives of some. And yet, most journalists remain resolved to fight to keep the principles of unwavering dedication to the pursuit of truth and making it available to all. And, we are convinced that the world needs journalists, now more than ever.”