African media in limbo

African media in limbo

By Daniel Itai

A lot of newsrooms have had to buckle up until the last hole due to the economic constraints that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although many media experts have agreed that COVID-19 has worsened the sustainability of media they have also agreed that most of the African media has been reluctant to adopt to the new normal of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) as well as addressing the manner which audiences receive their content within the African context.

“The issue of sustainability during the current COVID-19 pandemic is becoming a huge threat to the media.

However, even prior COVID-19, newsrooms were already struggling even renowned newspapers like the New York Times recorded massive declines in newspaper sales vis-à-vis online subscriptions which is working for them but in Africa the idea of putting news behind a pay wall has not been successful many newsrooms have not been able to come up with a model that addresses these fiscal issues,” said Sbu Ngalwa, Chairperson of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF).

Africa’s Program Coordinator for Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Angela Quintal, also weighed in on the issue of sustainability citing that journalists should not be complacent.

“We have to look at the reality in different countries and the reality is that things can change so we should not be complacent for instance in Zimbabwe, when President Mnangagwa became President we thought that things were going to change for the better but that’s not been the case, journalists are still being arrested and intimidated.

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Moreso, we also need to look at how governments are using technology to close the democratic space. Journalism is not just about freedom of expression for journalists but the public as well.

Moreover, very few newsrooms have resources to cover stories. These are the kind of challenges that newsrooms are facing on a daily basis hence, many have resorted to freelancing where they make use of social media to do their job but governments are cracking down on them like the issue of Hopewell who was arrested for doing his job and charged with inciting violence. In Countries like Ghana, Nigeria, eSwatini, Cameroon and Tanzania journalists are facing a lot of challenges especially when it comes to freedom of expression,” said Quintal.

Hopewell Chino’no, an investigative journalist, also cited the need for newsrooms to adapt to the African environment putting into context the economic toils that are faced by many African countries.

“Most African countries don’t have access to reliable and affordable internet which has since seen most people using WhatsApp. Many newsrooms have failed to come up with solutions on how they can bridge that gap. If you look at Zimbabwe the majority of people cannot afford newspapers they rely on second sources or messages from WhatsApp regardless, newsrooms have to now come up with ideas on how they can continue disseminating content within the African midst whilst sustaining themselves,” said Chino’no.