Managing Editor of Africa Sports newspaper and President of the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG), Kwabena Yeboah, was one of the panelists of the 1st AIPS World e-Conference to discus the topic: “Has Covid-19 affected journalists’ independence and freedom?”
Yeboah decried the deteriorating plight of many African sports journalists in the face of the global crisis; from pay cuts to layoffs to working for free to organisations folding up. He further explained how the financial difficulties faced by journalists and media organisations lead to their dependence on “big money bags”, which subsequently becomes a huge threat to the independence of the media. However, he acknowledged that “the current situation has exposed journalists to the benefit of digital platforms”.
Below is the full speech of Kwabena Yeboah delivered at the AIPS World e-Conference on July 2.
HAS COVID-19 AFFECTED THE INDEPENDENCE OF JOURNALISTS AND THEIR FUTURE?
With nearly 10 million infections of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) across the world, our generation has not witnessed such level of perplexity and unintelligibility as this. In Africa, South Africa leads the rate of infection with 112,000 cases whilst Ghana has 15,000 cases.
Irrespective of the figures in respective African Countries, the impact of the novel Covid-19 on sports journalism, I guess is the same, if not in tune with parallelism.
In Ghana for instance, and I guess by extension the rest of Africa, the pandemic has disrupted work and adversely affected sources of income for the sports journalist. The lack of sports activity means the withdrawal of advertising revenue which has led to pay cuts, delayed payments and in some cases total lay-offs. The worst hit in our case appear to be our freelancers.
In Ghana for instance, several sports commentators for whom the Ghana premier league was the main source of income have had a really tough time. Television producers have been compelled to cut down production and lay off staff, as other media houses have also been compelled to sack some staff. And as the President of the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG) I receive calls on daily basis from distressed members for assistance and direction.
Betting companies were some of the biggest advertisers in countries like Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and largely East Africa and with some leagues on hold, it has meant strenuous financial times for many sports journalists.
For a lot of African journalists, the uncertainty about the Africa Cup of Nations, which is a massive deal for journalists on the continent means potential financial stress for many. These indeed are awful times for sports journalists in Africa.
Personally, I have been the regular host of Sports Highlights, Ghana’s prime weekly sports show on the national broadcaster, Ghana television for the last 26 years. Never has the programme suffered such debilitating loss of revenue as this period of the coronavirus pandemic. The complete absence of sporting activity in Ghana has also meant we have had to be transformative as most television programmes have been reshaped.
The newspaper industry in Ghana is one of the worst hit by this pandemic. Even in the so-called normal times, the industry suffered as readership dwindled due to a variety of reasons. Today, most newspapers are compelled to rely on the benevolence of philanthropists and big money bags, which is a threat to the independence of the media as these powerful barons set their own parochial agenda.
While I may struggle to admit, my own independence has been compromised as the newspaper I have edited over the last 36 years – the Africa Sports – is no different from the plight of most sports journals. Regrettably as I write this piece, almost all Ghana’s sports newspapers have folded up, save two or three.
In a country like Ghana where most sports journalists are paid meagre salaries no higher than $50 a week, the situation in the Coronavirus (Covid-19) era has become more desolating. Indeed, some of my colleagues have been compelled to take the rather churlish and bitterly unbelieving decision to continue to work without any form of salary or income until the return of normalcy.
The pillars of journalism, we all appreciate hinges on total objectivity, integrity and probity, ingredients that are free from introversion and servility. The harsh cold reality is that some really distressed journalists have been compelled to compromise their independence on the altar of powerful money bags who set their parochial agenda. The massive job losses and pay cuts have sadly compelled some journalists to compromise their positions, purely for survival.
The independence of the profession has never been in such grave danger. Stories that have little or no relevance to the promotion and development of sports are pursued just to do the bidding of their pay-masters.
On the brighter side, because sports touch every part of society and is ingrained in our culture, nearly everyone can relate to sports. The restrictions imposed on us by Covid-19 has now compelled some sports journalists to use their social media platforms to communicate with their audiences while urging them to practice safe measures and social distancing.
Covid-19 means a paradigm shift for journalism as we look at digital migration for television broadcast. There may be more television channels and self-broadcasts like Facebook live, YouTube etc. The current situation has exposed journalists to the benefit of digital platforms and the benefit of working smart, new tools for work, among others.
The continuous digitization could also have adverse effect on our workforce, creating more anxiety for sports journalists generally. Such is the novel case of Covid-19, in some cases sports journalists and the central government have had to work together. In our specific case, the Sport Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG) have had to acquiesce to the demand of the government to hand over the clubhouse to be used as a Covid-19 Isolation centre, which we have gleefully done.
Hopefully, demands which may directly border on our independence and freedom would not be made.
My fervent prayer is that the NEW NORMAL, which is really crippling our profession, will soon pass as a vaccine is found to end this current hell.
Until then, we can only keep our fingers crossed.