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Community newspapers suffer as state support drops

By GroundUp

The government’s advertising support of community newspapers has been dwindling and, in some cases, has ground to a complete halt.

Many publications fear this could lead to further closures of community newspapers.

The Association of Independent Publishers said these publications in small towns, townships and rural areas hold power brokers accountable for the situation.

The Media Development and Diversity Agency says it cannot meet the demand for funding of community print media.

“Dwindling advertising from the government is hitting community newspapers and stifling media diversity,” said Mbali Dhlomo, editor of Intuthuko newspaper in Durban.

Dhlomo and other community print media are raising the alarm over the “devastating” impact of cuts in advertising from government departments on grassroots publishers across the country.

In KwaZulu-Natal alone, five community publications have been forced to shut down since mid-2022 after eThekwini Municipality, citing budgetary constraints, slashed its budget for community print advertising in half.

According to Dhlomo, eThekwini has historically been one of the consistent funders of community print media. However, in September 2022, the 12 local newspapers supported by eThekwini “got an abrupt call to a meeting” where the municipality informed them of the budget cut. This led to several community newspapers stopping publication.

One of these was Umthombo, whose editor Mlungisi Gumede told GroundUp that he had stopped publishing in late 2022. Umthombo had been in circulation since early 2020.

Gumede said Umthombo supported three freelancers who are now struggling to make ends meet.

“It has ruined our lives,” said Gumede.

Dhlomo said that once Sihle Zikalala became Premier in 2019, all support from the Premier’s Office “came to a dead stop”.

Outside of the government, it is very difficult to raise advertising revenue from local shops and businesses.

“Publications have been charging peanuts for local business advertising,” said Dhlomo.

eThekwini Municipality’s head of communications Lindiwe Khuzwayo told GroundUp that the municipality has not pulled advertising from the community or any other media.

“eThekwini has been one of the biggest, most consistent supporters of community media. This is still very much the case. Our intention is to continue with this, within the constraints of budget availability,” said Khuzwayo.

The KZN Premier’s Office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Pictured above: Newspapers

Image source: GroundUp