Within recent weeks, two of the three major media entities were forced to restructure and retrench employees to avoid having to shut down due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus.
Stakeholders are now saying that the Government can administer supportive care to help keep the industry alive.
The media industry is heavily reliant on revenues generated through advertisement but that means it’s left to the mercy of the country’s economic prosperity.
“The advertising dollars – that’s one of the first things that seems to dry up when an economy is struggling,” Newsday’s managing director Grant Taylor said.
“And our economy is under a bit of pressure and that trickles down. We are no exception to that in our industry.”
In September, Newsday’s parent company, Daily News Limited (DNL) was among the first of the media giants to restructure and send home staff. Up to that point, the company had not undergone a significant restructure as other media houses did when the economy first began its decline.
On Wednesday, One Caribbean Media Limited (OCM) joined DNL in a similar move was which led to the retrenchment of some 49 employees across the CCN Group which includes The Daily Express and TV6.
In a release announcing the move, OCM’s chief executive officer, Dawn Thomas cited the country’s economic decline as one of the factors for the financial move. But she also cited technological developments in the digital space.
“These tech giants are paying no taxes to the government, provide no employment opportunities and consume our limited foreign exchange,” Thomas told Guardian Media.
Taylor, who is also the president of the T&T Publishers’ and Broadcasters’ Association (TTPBA) held a similar belief.
“That cannot be a competitive environment and they pay very little to the platforms that are the foundations of their revenue base,” he said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic is injected into this system, Guardian Media Limited’s managing director Brandon Khan said, it creates “a perfect storm that we have to weather.”
This is among some of the reasons why he believes the industry’s prospects for 2021 isn’t encouraging. Guardian Media Limited is the parent company for the Guardian Newspaper, CNC3 and the TBC Radio Network.
During this storm, Khan believes “we have to batten down the hatches, we have to run efficient operations to ensure we stay afloat.”
As the media falls victim to the economic impact of the pandemic, some fear it’s ability to uphold democracy.
“I worry about our ability to cover the public and public lives,” the Media Association of T&T’s president Dr Sheila Rampersad said.
This, she said is “because when you have fewer people doing work you obviously would have limited output.”
All media executives shared the same sentiment that a failed industry would have dire effects on the maintenance of democracy.
All stakeholders believe that the industry is resilient and would find a way to survive the storm. But whether they would all see the other end of it with all limbs attached – that’s still uncertain.
However, they noted there is room for the Government to ensure the industry survives. It can be by following in the footsteps of other countries and regulating tech giants’ operations locally or by differing or waiving bills and broadcasting fees.
When it comes to subventions, however, the OCM CEO was cautious as she is “weary of the media’s independence being compromised.”
Notably, companies in the industry would also need to alter the way they operate and generate revenue.
The TTPBA president said the association would be writing to government to explore how it could assist the industry.