By Enoch Sithole:
-The 2021 South African State of the Newsroom report has been released with a strong focus on how community media and “independent” newsrooms have survived Covid-19.

Report editor, Alan Finlay, said this edition “also continues our conversation on data and offers an analysis of the kinds of incidents reporters faced that restricted their work when going out on assignment over the past five years”.

The report features reports from various studies such as that conducted by the director of the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP), Dr Kate Skinner, which found that community newspapers were showing some recovery following the devastating years of the Covid-19 pandemic. There were more titles being printed now than a year or two before the pandemic started, she found. 

The report also features the director of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Nadia Bulbulia, who argued that a lack of independent listenership figures and of skilled staff contributed to the sustainability crisis facing community radio. Bulbulia said the funding of community radio stations was dependent on the “politics of the day”, adding to the sustainability crisis. 

Donor funding, says the report, helped insulate independent newsrooms from the impact of Covid-19 which affected several commercial newsrooms. However, some independent newsrooms operate on shoestring budgets and their sustainability cannot be guaranteed. Commenting on these findings, contributor Kiri Rupiah said independent newsrooms offered an opportunity for innovation and an opportunity to mentor young journalists. They are a platform for interaction between young and experienced journalists. 

On the subject of data usage in journalism, the report also features a discussion with Adam Oxford, who argues that training journalists to work with data, and newsrooms using data to better understand their audience’s needs, was critical to building the trust and credibility of the media. 

The report is rich in data on community media and discusses some rather common topics such as state interference at the SA Broadcasting Corporation and the harassment of journalists, among others.

The ‘’hate speech” bill had “resurfaced”, said the report, adding that the government had issued a call for public comment in October. “The call was welcomed by media freedom advocates, who reiterated that as it stood it was disproportionate and would limit freedom of expression in the country, including through its criminalisation of hate speech,” reads the report. The report is available at here.