Media Viability, Covid-19 and the ‘Darwinian’ Experience in Southern Africa

Carol Azungi Dralega

(Publisert i Dralega & Napakol (eds.): Health Crises and Media Discourses in Sub-Saharan Africa. Springer, 2022

Political economy predicates suggest that media viability is about the influence and balance between politics and economics of media systems. It is about survival and control. This logic informs this study, which seeks to gain insights into the impact of Covid-19 on media viability in Southern Africa. For decades, the media industry in Southern Africa, and indeed globally, has been trapped in an existential struggle—experiencing, for instance, the steady demise of traditional business models amidst rapid technological developments and proliferation of digital communication, waning trust in legacy media, and an unconducive political and legislative environment. In this qualitative study, we learn from leading industry experts from eight countries about the wide-ranging impact and paradoxes of the pandemic on the media industry—a phenomenon some have referred to as ‘a Darwinian moment’ or ‘media extinction event’. In this study media-house size and ownership, trustworthiness and ability to fully switch to digital operations were key to survival, as was the need for newsroom and work-form restructuring. The study raises concerns over the Covid-19-exacerbated dangers regarding journalists’ welfare and cautions against the deepening threats to press freedom, the further marginalisation of minority groups and the relegation of the media’s public interest role.

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