By Science Africa Correspondent
As COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread rapidly across the world, its impact on companies including media outlets is turning profound— not just because it is straining already stretched newsrooms in terms of reporting resources, but also because it is affecting the financial side of the industry.
Ever since the pandemic broke out few months ago, millions of people have either lost their jobs or forced to take pay cuts which has effectively dipped their purchasing power.
Industrial slow-down and low purchasing power has consequently affected advertisers –the main sources of revenue for many newsrooms – as advertising revenue have reportedly dropped by more than 20 percent across the media industry.
Caught in the heat of things, media houses in Kenya, just like those in other parts of the world who are currently starring at massive financial shocks, are in the dilemma of how to keep their staff employed, pay bills and still maintain news coverage.
All media houses in Kenya have either temporarily effected pay cuts or suspended certain benefits for a period of time.
Last month, Royal Media Services (RMS) that runs Citizen TV announced a general salary reduction for all its staff of between 20 percent and 30 percent in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
Today, dozens of newsrooms in the country have been deserted after media houses advised their staff to work and file their stories from home to adhere to social distancing measures aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus.
Newspapers have also reduced their pages due to reduced content and limited adverts.
On the same week, Radio Africa Group announced general pay cuts for its employees to cushion itself against the adverse effects of the deadly pandemic.
The media house, which runs a number of radio stations including Kiss 100, Classic 105 and The Star newspaper, announced a 30 percent pay cut for all employees earning a gross salary of more than Sh100, 000 and 20 percent for salaries below Sh100, 000 effective April 1.
Standard Group which own the Standard newspaper, KTN Television, Radio Maisha among other news outlets also issued a notice to lay off at least 170 employees. The media group cited shifting media consumption trends as one of four reasons that necessitated the move to downsize the workforce.
The company also cited the ‘need to realign the organisation structure to be better equipped to deal with the emerging business challenges brought about by regulatory changes and a difficult business environment, as another reason for its drastic action’.
Nation Media Group, the largest media house in East and Central Africa recently joined the list of other media houses in the country that had already announced the pay-cuts after announcing temporary pay cuts for its staff.
But it is not also reporters attached to newsrooms who are feeling the impacts of Covid-19.
Mary Mwendwa, Kenyan Freelance Journalist, says that freelance reporters have been severely affected as editors are no longer accepting pitches.
The journalist says that she can no longer travel to get good stories because of the lockdown and curfews that has been put in place by the government to contain the spread of the virus.
“Since COVID-19 became a world Heath problem, no one is willing to commission any journalist during this period. Therefore it is hard to get a story published and this means no income,” explained Ms Mwendwa.
Victor Bwire,the head of Head of Media Development and Strategy at the Media Council of Kenya not that the media in Kenya in general and journalists, in particular, have done well especially on coverage of the pandemic despite the challenges presented by coronavirus.
He says the media in Kenya has used the current health challenges including dealing with emergencies to bring to fore the need for a national debate on the status of the health infrastructure in the country.
“While the outbreak presented unique challenges to journalists, and in some cases, faults have been made, media houses have spared enough space and airtime to bring expert information on the disease, and what can be done to minimize its adverse effects,”Mr Bwire says.