This Sunday is World Press Freedom Day. It is a time to celebrate the work of journalists across the globe, and to recognise the fundamental role that a free and independent media plays in a healthy society.
This year, there is plenty to celebrate. The work of credible news outlets has never been more popular, with audiences hungry for reliable information about the fundamental changes that our world is experiencing. Traffic to the Mail & Guardian website has skyrocketed in the past few months, with other media houses reporting similar surges.
Nor has it been more vital. In a sea of disinformation and fake news, it is our job to convey reliable, verifiable and fact-checked information from credible sources. It is also our job to hold the powerful to account: the actions and decisions of those in power now could shape our country for decades to come, and cannot be left uninterrogated. This is the reason that journalism is designated as an “essential service”’ during the lockdown.
As the Inter Press Service observed: “The long-term risks of suppressing press freedoms have been exposed by the pandemic. As the death toll mounts amidst an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions, promoting transparent reporting is a global necessity.”
And yet, the ability of journalists to do their job is under enormous threat.
In some countries, journalists have been harassed, intimidated and even jailed for trying to do their jobs. There are countless examples, but one recent one stands out: Arphine Helisoa, the Malagasy journalist who has been jailed because a partner publication in France published a story that was critical of Madagascar’s response to the pandemic. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for her immediate release.
When the threats are not physical, they are economic. The pandemic has already had a devastating impact on the media landscape as advertising revenues have plunged. United States newspapers have laid off hundreds of staff and many have either stopped printing or reduced their frequency. Dozens of Australian newspapers have suspended printing. Circulation of newspapers in East Africa has declined by 50% as a result of closures of restaurants, hotels and other public spaces, and some large media houses have begun laying off staff.
South Africa is not immune to these trends — nor is the M&G. And that’s where you come in. By buying today’s edition, or subscribing for weekly deliveries and our digital news, you are doing your bit to keep good journalism alive. For this, we salute you — and promise, in turn, to do our best to keep reporting without fear or favour.