South Africa, sometimes, is a peculiar country to observe. I like the country of my birth nonetheless despite some of its rather peculiar habits.
One of those habits is how regularly a new buzzword will trend and it will be on every person's lips, especially business leaders and policymakers. Such buzzwords will oft be used out of context or be used as the scapegoat for all manner of things. Before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, we had the "Fourth Industrial Revolution", or "4IR" as many like to call it.
4IR was said to be a magical pill that would change South Africans' lives, equally, it was being blamed for the loss of jobs by some companies. For example, when retrenching thousands of their customer care staff, MultiChoice Group blamed "4IR," yet, somehow, Amazon is hiring 3,000 South Africans in its customer care division.
Now, more recently, the buzzword is "COVID-19."
Like it's predecessor, COVID-19 is also being used as a scapegoat for many things in South Africa. More specifically, and to my surprise, many large (well, larger than us, iAfrikan Media) media businesses in South Africa have announced staff layoffs and complete shutdown of some of their publications citing drumroll COVID-19.
It first started with Caxton, barely a couple of months into the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa, announcing that they shutting down many of their print publications. Others followed. However, more recently, arguably one of the largest media companies in South Africa, Media 24, also cited COVID-19 for laying off hundreds of staff members and closing some of their print publications.
Now, this was a bit weird to me.
Firstly, their announcement had the title "Covid-19 hits Media24 hard." This is weird, to me at least, because, during April 2020, a month after the COVID-19 lockdown started in South Africa, Media24's CEO announced that "Media24 has pledged a contribution of R1m to the national Solidarity Response Fund." I don't know about you but there's a saying, "charity begins at home?"
Secondly, it gets even weirder for me because, as their statement acknowledges, their media business was already under strain long before COVID-19 happened. It begs the question, why then emphasize and blame COVID-19 for shutting down many publications and laying off staff when you already knew long before that your business was under strain?
"As the, very accurate, cliche goes, ‘don’t let a good crisis go to waste.’ I would not be surprised to see some businesses strategically shutdown operations or business units because Covid-19 serves as the perfect excuse for doing so. These could be operations that they wanted to get rid of but couldn’t without backlash or because of contracts that left little room for manoeuvre. I am no legal expert but I suspect the lockdowns globally can make for interesting negotiations between parties." - Kojo Baffoe, Strategic Business Shutdown
When it comes to South Africa's mainstream media companies, I would even add it goes beyond a strategic business shutdown, and has a lot more to do with mediacrity (mediocrity, but for specific to mediocre media companies), i.e. complacent management and companies that have become comfortable in delivering a below-average product and content (some even use a couple of tweets as the core of their articles, if we can call those things articles).
We could argue why this mediacrity exists and persisted for so long in a world where media has been changing at a fast pace, one reason, and a big reason at that, is that advertisers and sponsors continued to cut cheques for media assets that were not performing. Why? Who knows!
Unfortunately, the market doesn't respect sentiment or opinions, neither do readers, listeners, and viewers. They all gravitate to where there is value.
All I wish is one of these companies would take responsibility and accept their own failures instead of blaming 4IR or COVID-19, it is the honorable thing to do.
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Quote of the day
"When it comes to South Africa's mainstream media companies, I would even add it goes beyond a strategic business shutdown, and has a lot more to do with 'mediacrity' (mediocrity, but specific to mediocre media companies)" (Tweet this)
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