The coronavirus monster has affected almost all economic sectors.
The media industry was not spared by this global pandemic. Household brands across the world have closed shop! Major brands have shut down because there is no business to support continuation of these magazines and newspapers.
Some newspapers published their last print issue in May 2020 before they went online. Basically, publishing business across the world is in intensive care unit. Media industry is exploring cutting down salaries of staff as the going is getting tougher and tougher.
There are plenty of international examples to drive this point home. For instance, The Guardian expects revenues to fall by £20 million over the next six months. Salary cuts are being implemented in the main editorial offices (Condé Nast, Financial Times, LA Times) as well as temporary unemployment measures (Le Soir in Belgium, for example).
In the absence of travel, free newspapers are at a standstill. According to the New York Times, 33,000 news media employees have been affected by the crisis measures in the United States.
Here at home, on April 2, 2020 President Mokgweetsi Masisi announced a national lockdown which was later extended until May 20, 2020. For 48 days, almost all newspapers did not generate income derived from copy sales since they were forced by circumstances to suspend their print editions.
This adverse decision obviously affected revenue streams, but there was nothing they could have done. It is for this reason that some media houses in Botswana are also on the verge of shutting down their operations. Some have written to their employees warning them that they might not be paid their June 2020 salaries, and beyond.
Some have even effected salary cuts. Some managed to pay their employees 100% salaries for April and May 2020, mitigated by Botswana Unified Revenue Service wage subsidy, although their companies were not earning revenue from advertising and copy sales.
For a company like Dikgang Publishing Company, publishers of your favourite Mmegi and The Monitor newspapers, the BURS wage subsidy amounted to barely a third of the wage bill.
The effects of COVID-19 are multiple as they also affected the fall in advertising. The advertisers in the media were also affected and they cannot afford to place adverts. Worldwide, newspapers that are doing greater than others are those who have taken a digital turn and those with a pool of subscribers. And newspapers in Botswana do not have high percentage of subscribers and digitisation of the media houses is still at its infancy.
Newspapers like Mmegi offer news to its readers on the website. We appeal to the reader to continue supporting media industry by buying the paper and subscribing in large numbers so that we continuing delivering premium quality content to everyone. We need the support of readers and advertisers to keep afloat during this difficult times.
“The media is absolutely essential to the functioning of a democracy. It’s not our job to cozy up to power. We’re supposed to be the check and balance on government.”