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MEDIA CRISIS

Association of Independent Publishers ‘strongly supports’ DM’s calls to highlight the plight of news media

Association of Independent Publishers ‘strongly supports’ DM’s calls to highlight the plight of news media
Daily Maverick shut down operations for 24 hours on 15 April 2024 to draw attention to the dire state of news media. (Illustrative image: The screen that greeted visitors upon visiting Daily Maverick on 15 April 2024, captured from dailymaverick.co.za)

Daily Maverick’s 24-hour shutdown on Monday, 15 April 2024, shed light on the harsh realities faced by media organisations. The shrinking of newsrooms due to insufficient funding and support has far-reaching consequences for journalism and democracy, not only in South Africa, but also globally.

The Association of Independent Publishers (AIP), representing 147 independent community media publishers and 178 publications across the country, has thrown its weight behind Daily Maverick’s call for action to address the news media’s unsustainable business model which has created an emergency in journalism.

The AIP echoed Daily Maverick’s concerns about the state of journalism, emphasising its critical role in South Africa’s democracy, and said it would begin its own campaign to highlight the challenges.

“As Daily Maverick points out, the shrinking of local voices means less local government accountability. It means more corruption and mismanagement at the municipal level in big cities, small towns and rural areas.

“It means less delivery of services and more crime. And as local infrastructure collapses, it makes it more difficult for local businesses to operate,” the AIP said.

The AIP said it “strongly supports” Daily Maverick’s efforts to highlight the crisis in journalism across the country, but said its members could not afford to implement temporary shutdowns.

“Most of our publishers don’t have the resources to close – not for a day, not even for an hour. Our margins are too slim. So as AIP, we are starting a campaign – with our audiences – highlighting the importance of what local media means to our communities, and what we believe will happen if it vanishes.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Editorial: Words of warning and sobering reality that must hit home at this eleventh hour

Recognising the indispensable role of local media in community engagement and information dissemination, the AIP announced its campaign to raise awareness about the value of local journalism.

In addition to supporting Daily Maverick’s calls for corporate assistance, government subsidies and tax incentives, the association proposed several key initiatives:

  • Increased advertising investment in local journalism to bolster financial sustainability;
  • Proactive engagement from the Media Development and Diversity Agency across all community media sectors, including print, online and broadcast;
  • Transparency in government advertising placements, ensuring equitable distribution across local publications;
  • Research to assess the effectiveness of advertising intermediaries at the community level, identifying areas for improvement; and
  • Enhanced support from the Sector Education and Training Authorities to enhance local journalism training programmes.

Michael Markovitz, the head of the Gordon Institute of Business Science Media Leadership Think Tank, also supported Daily Maverick’s shutdown: “Journalism is a public good and is essential for a healthy democracy. One cannot overstate the situation, which is far worse in the Global South.”

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse urged others to support Daily Maverick, tweeting: “A powerful message from one of the fighters-in-the frontline against #corruption. Please support Daily Maverick!”

Daily Maverick shut down its site for a day in a deliberate action aimed at raising awareness of the urgency and severity of the journalism crisis and its societal impact.

‘Fighting for our lives’

The AIP emphasised the precarious financial situation of many local publishers, saying “we’re fighting for our lives”.

“In 2016 AIP had 204 publications – now we have 178. The overall print runs were 7.5 million monthly – now we have 2.5 million. We boasted a monthly readership across the country of 22.6 million. Now we have approximately 7.5 million readers: a drop of 15.1 million – over 8 years.”

Amid the backdrop of an economy plunged into a recession by Covid-19 and further upheaval caused by the July 2021 unrest, the wider news media faced unprecedented challenges.

The pandemic-induced lack of funding and advertising drought exacerbated these issues, leading to significant repercussions. In the wake of Covid-19 and its aftermath, numerous media organisations were forced to make difficult decisions, including shutdowns and mass retrenchments because of financial constraints and dwindling advertising revenues.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Thought Daily Maverick’s shutdown was a PR stunt? This is the real state of the news media

The Covid-19 pandemic led to widespread job cuts and closures across the media landscape. The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) reported about 700 job losses in the print media sector alone, with closures affecting publications under the AIP and major players such as Media24.

Just last year, the Independent Media Group, the publisher of, among others, The Star, Isolezwe, and the Cape Times, retrenched 141 staffers, about a third of its workforce, to cut its wage bill.

The newspaper group, an indirect subsidiary of Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo group, warned of the “harsh reality of job reductions” in June 2023 amid falling advertising revenue and dwindling circulation figures.

‘No silver bullets’

The AIP, meanwhile, said Covid was “devastating” for its members as the largely print-based community media struggled and stopped printing while advertisers, mostly local businesses, shut their doors.

When publishers started the presses again, many began printing monthly rather than weekly and cut the print run to 5,000 from 10,000-20,000 copies.

“Publishers were encouraged to go online – but there were no silver bullets. The majority of online advertising was absorbed by the big tech platforms (Google and Facebook). If it was difficult to make money in the mainstream media, it was even more difficult for local media,” the AIP said

“Online audiences are small at community level – but to make money online you need huge audiences (with millions of users). But further, even with large audiences it is difficult to earn revenue in African languages as they are simply not recognised by the big tech platforms.”

However, “all is not lost”, the AIP said.

“The 147 publishers in AIP represent some of the most resilient media professionals in South Africa, with the closest understanding of the news interests and information needs in communities, most representative of South African citizenry. And AIP is committed to the fight to keep community news alive in South Africa.” DM

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  • James Webster says:

    The DM can not run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, playing the woke left-wing lapdog one second but bleating its victimhood the next. It openly espouses appeasement, excuses African underperformance and lionises African mediocrity, the woke rumination of DM contributors such as ANC Ambassadoos Melanie Verwoerd, Professed Poison Pen de Vos and Ms Marianne Not-so-funny Thamm exemplifies this. DM has forgotten that its purpose is to EDUCATE public opinion, not MANIPULATE or DEFINE it. Simone Weil once said that rights and responsibilities were different sides of the same coin, clearly DM has forgotten this axiom, it constantly excuses African failure, rather than holding them to account, lionises sub standard African “achievement” as though it were extraordinary, and defends African arrogance and African bluster rather than condemning them. The DM bought into woke toxicity, now it’s paying the price – and whining all the way down. Speaking of whine, which wine goes well with the DM’s demise, why, a blanc de blancs of course, nê Professed de Vos ? Go woke, go broke !

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