The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is dismayed to learn that one of the country’s biggest multiplatform media companies will be retrenching hundreds of journalists, due to the negative impact of COVID-19.
SANEF notes with deep concern the statement by Ishmet Davidson, CEO of Media24, that 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”.
Davidson further stated that even with a return to pre-COVID-19 economic levels, the impact of the pandemic on print media operations will be unrecoverable. As a result, the company’s planned interventions are expected to affect around 510 staff members (with a proposed reduction of close on 660 positions) out of a total staff compliment of 2 971, largely across the print media and distribution divisions.
The company’s move will lead to the closure of some magazines, and others will be moved to digital platforms or outsourced. Media24 plans to close Move!, and the Hearst portfolio (Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Bicycling, Runner’s World); publish DRUM in digital format only. And it will outsource the editorial production of the remaining monthly portfolio including Fairlady and SARIE amongst others. Further, they plan to reduce the frequency of their monthly magazines to six issues per year, and eight issues for tuis/home, SA Hunter/Jagter and Man Magnum.
The same fate awaits its newspapers as the company said it planned to close Son op Sondag and Sunday Sun. It will also close the Eastern Cape edition of Son, four community newspapers in KwaZulu-Natal: Amanzimtoti Fever, East Griqualand Fever, Hillcrest Fever and Maritzburg Fever.
It is going to publish the Volksblad and Die Burger Oos-Kaap as weekday digital editions, consolidate the Noordkaap and Kalahari Bulletin into a single newspaper, Noordkaap Bulletin, and Kroonnuus and Vrystaat Nuus into Vrystaat Kroonnuus. At the same time, it is incorporating Theewaterskloof Gazette into Hermanus Times. It plans to accelerate the digital transition of The Witness.
The process will also lead to the reduction of staff in its media distribution business as well as in divisional and corporate services departments related to the proposed reduced print media operations.
SANEF also takes note of the recent SABC notice of possible job redundancy/retrenchments and notification in terms of section 189(3) of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (“LRA”) that was sent to staff members on 18 June 2020. The SABC stated that a possible 600 jobs could be lost.
SANEF joins the SOS Coalition (SOS) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) in their statement that the long-term financial sustainability of the SABC is essential to the well-being of our democracy.
We are painfully aware that any SABC and Media24 retrenchments in the media sector will exacerbate unemployment as mass retrenchments have hit us hard 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.
Note to Editors: The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research and education and training programmes. SANEF is not a union.
For more information please contact:
Mahlatse Mahlase – SANEF Chairperson, (083) 399-2852
Katy Katopodis – SANEF Deputy Chairperson, (082) 805-7022
Moipone Malefane – SANEF Secretary-General (082) 772-5861
Mary Papayya – SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (073) 404-1415
Janet Heard – SANEF Western Cape Convenor (078) 041-9528
Hopewell Radebe – SANEF Gauteng Regional Convenor (083) 582-1734
Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – (082) 926-6404