The reduction or suspension of print editions, salary cuts and mass layoffs. The coronavirus pandemic has hit the financial health of Latin American media companies at a time when journalistic work is essential for society.
In Brazil, a provisional measure from the government authorizes companies to reduce wages and working hours by up to 70 percent for up to 90 days. The objective is to ease corporate obligations and maintain jobs during the crisis.
On April 14, newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo (Estadão), one of the three most important in the country, announced a 25 percent cut in wages and working hours starting in May. The plan provides for a six-month stability guarantee and health insurance until the end of the year.
The company, which is also responsible for Agência Estado, would have lost 50 percent of revenue from print ads and events, according to what editor-in-chief João Caminoto explained to about 250 journalists who attended a conference call via Hangout.
According to journalists who participated in the virtual meeting, the proposal is to close a collective agreement through the journalists' union. If there is no agreement, the company will propose individual agreements, with no guarantee of stability for those who do not accept, Brazil Journal reported.
In Rio de Janeiro, newspaper O Dia announced a 25 percent reduction in salaries and working hours for all of its staff in the newsroom and administrative areas, in effect starting in March. In a statement sent to journalists and reproduced by the site Comunique-se, the chair of the newspaper informs that "the remaining piece will be paid off as soon as the national contingency scenario falls apart." Subsequently, a new communiqué also informs about the working hour reduction starting in March.
In Minas Gerais, the second most populous state in Brazil, newspaper Hoje em Dia, of Belo Horizonte, proposed a salary reduction to its journalists. O Tempo, also from the state capital, laid off 24 journalists this week, according to the Minas Gerais Journalists Union.
In a statement, the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ), defended the mediation of local unions in wage reduction negotiations and warned that “it considers that individual agreements should not be recognized.” FENAJ is monitoring other cases in Brazil.
In Argentina, the publisher Publiexpress dismissed 93 people and ended the publication of the magazines Pronto, Diario de la Salud, Saber Vivir and Buenas Ideas. Only the digital edition of Pronto, which specializes in celebrities, was kept. The Argentine Forum of Journalism (FOPEA, in Spanish) sympathized with the professionals and warned that “we are facing a crisis in the media industry that today is accelerated by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to be catastrophic for the sector.”
In Colombia, Grupo Semana dismissed about 250 employees, including journalists and administrative and commercial workers, about a month ago due to the financial impact caused by the coronavirus crisis. In addition, it decided to suspend the publication of the magazines Arcadia, SoHo, Jet-set, Semana Educación and Semana Sostenible for 60 days.
“It seems to me that the company internally sends quite contradictory messages to its workers, because immediately, they took me to the human resources department and what they presented to me was a letter informing me about the termination of my employment contract, without any commitment to return to work for the organization after the crisis,” Sara Malagón, former editor of the cultural magazine Arcadia, told the radio program Mañanas BLU about the possible return to the magazine when the global situation returns to normal.
In a statement announcing the suspension of the magazines, Grupo Semana stated that the magazines Semana and Diñero will continue to be published normally. “Without a doubt, the economic impact created by the coronavirus phenomenon and the logistical restrictions make it mandatory to design restructurings of this nature. A challenge like this is simultaneously an opportunity to innovate and look for ways to improve our products,” the group said in a statement.
The Federation of Journalists of Latin America and the Caribbean (Felpac) condemned the dismissal of journalists during the pandemic. The organization notes that journalists from Peru, Panama, Ecuador and Paraguay are also suffering from the effects of reduced economic activity, making it impossible to continue working due to lack of resources. The National Association of Journalists of Peru and the Union of Journalists of Paraguay have asked national governments to guarantee sustainability for workers affected by the crisis, according to Fepalc.
Print editions leave the scene during the pandemic
In Latin America, several other journalistic organizations have adopted measures to restrict or suspend the printed editions of their magazines and newspapers.
Editora Globo, which is part of the largest media group in Brazil, stopped publishing six monthly magazines, which will be available only in digital format. The daily newspapers O Globo and Extra, in addition to the weekly magazine Época, continue to be printed.
In Chile, La Discusión de Chillán stopped circulating for the first time on paper since 1939, when an 8.3 magnitude earthquake hit the region and caused the death of 24,000 people.
“The global coronavirus pandemic and its strong impact on our city leads us to make one of the most difficult decisions for a print journalistic outlet: to suspend the circulation of its print edition,” the organization said in a statement released on the first page of the newspaper. “[It is an] extraordinary [measure], for an extraordinary situation, with the conviction that in this way we are protecting our workers, readers and supplements, without abandoning the responsibility of delivering reliable information.”
In Mexico, Grupo Crónica announced the end of its print editions in the face of the coronavirus emergency. Thus, since April 1, the newspapers La Crónica de Hoy, Crónica Hidalgo and Crónica de Jalisco have no longer been published.
In Bolivia, El Deber, from Santa Cruz de La Sierra, took the print version of the newspaper off the streets on March 24. Circulation will return to normal only after the quarantine. Página Siete, from La Paz, interrupted its Sunday editions, but keeps coming out the other days of the week.
World Association of News Publishers advocates for short-term financing
The president of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Fernando de Yarza López-Madrazo of Spain, wrote on the organization's website that with the coronavirus pandemic “journalism becomes more necessary than ever,” with a growing audience, while at the same time, sources of revenue are evaporating.
“Advertising has all but disappeared. Buying newspapers is becoming more and more complicated. The global economic downturn, which is unprecedented in our lifetime, has affected us in a brutal way. It is precisely now, despite this precariousness of resources, that we are going to demand more of ourselves than ever to fulfil our duties,” López-Madrazo wrote.
He defended greater access to short-term financing so that the sector can survive in the face of the crisis in the advertising market caused by the coronavirus.
“It’s not about profits or profit and loss accounts. That does not matter now. It’s about staying alive and continuing our commitment to serving citizens and communities, their dignity, the social cohesion and the protection of democracy.”