Highlighting the journalism emergency: What happens if local journalism disappears?

The Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) is launched its month long ( May) “Journalism Emergency” campaign today on World Press Freedom Day.

We believe it is critical to highlight the plight of our publishers – but also the plight of citizens if we are forced to close. Across the world small local publishers are closing their doors and in South Africa it is no different. These closures are creating what are called “news desserts. 

In 2016 AIP had 204 publications – now we have 178. The overall print runs were 7.5m monthly – now we have 2.5m. We boasted a monthly readership across the country of 22.6m. Now we have approximately 7.5m readers: a monthly drop of 15.1m – over 8 years. But what does this mean for democracy? 

The shrinking of local voices means less local government accountability. It means more corruption and mismanagement at the municipal level in big cities, in small towns and rural areas. It means less delivery of services and more crime. And as local infrastructure crumbles, it makes it more difficult for local businesses to survive and thrive.

Also, it means that local history, culture and languages are celebrated less and that records of local communities are also cherished and archived less. Local spaces are left to the arbitrary, polarised and polarising vices of social media. There is a more prolific spread of mis- and disinformation. To stem this tide AIP is calling on people across the country to support their local print and online publications. 

We thus call on:

 -Citizens across the country to buy their local newspapers, to subscribe, to pay membership fees and where they are free to make donations.

-Corporates to collectively advertise across our local publications.

-Local businesses to support our local publications in local areas.

– More advertising support from government and at all levels (national, provincial and local) and more transparency about where advertising is being placed.

Also, we call on government not to send us press statements only and expect us to cover their campaigns for free – but for them to put advertising behind these campaigns.

– More support and engagement from local NGOs, charities, churches, schools and clinics. These organisations should be encouraged to use their local media to communicate with residents but also put advertising support behind these campaigns.

– The Media Development and Diversity Agency must play a more proactive, supportive role in the community media sector including relevant sustainability research, funding and policy support to publishers.

– Finally, we call on the Setas to support local journalism training. In conclusion…. We believe all is not lost.

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.  We hope our campaign will highlight our plight – but also offer concrete solutions. 

About AIP: AIP is an independent community media membership organisation. We represent 147 publishers and 178 publications across the country. (AIP members are independent of the mainstream media companies such as Media24 and Caxton.) We are the biggest independent publisher’ organisation in Africa.  

Our publications are based mostly in townships, small towns and rural areas. We are a diverse, strong-minded, active grouping, representing all the 11 official languages in the country – 109 of our publications cover languages other than English. 

Frequently asked questions: Why should we care about community media?

 ● It is one of the most diverse sectors of the media in terms of language, content and format.

● It covers areas of the country that no other media cover, other than SABC radio.

● It has the closest and most intimate relationship with its audiences.

● It builds communities from the bottom up.

● It holds local power brokers (government, business and civil society organisations) to account.

● It is critical to SA democracy because it ensures that we know what is happening in our country – not just what is happening in the major cities.

● It is the custodian of local culture, language and history.

● Local media creates job opportunities for aspiring writers, photographers, design and layout artists, advertising and sales people.

● Finally, local media trains media specialists for the industry at large.

For more information please contact: Mbali Dhlomo – AIP Chairperson – 083 466 0027Kate Skinner – AIP Executive Director – 082 926 6404.

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