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Let me declare my personal interest first.

I’ve been working in the communications field since 1993. It all happened by accident. Since then, I’ve been absorbed by the sector and the industry. I lead a team of professionals in our communications advisory firm CiConsulta which also provides the service of bringing information in a fact-checked manner through this portal Corporate Dispatch and part of another professional team in one of Malta’s news service providers Newsbook.com.mt and radio broadcaster on 103 and Campus Fm. Over the years I stepped in every newsroom and was given a voice or asked for my opinion on every TV on the island.

I am in constant contact with all journalists from all newsrooms. I call them colleagues… I call them friends. So do I speak with every media owner on the island. They’re also colleagues. They are friends.

Although our firm does PR and communications service, my ‘soul’ remains that of a journalist and as such as all my clients and the media organisations and journalists can vouch for we respect the editorial role and understand completely the challenges.

Our journalists are fantastic and amazing. They work hard with limited resources. The biggest limited resource is time. Yet the service is always of the highest level possible. Yes everyone has agendas, but in cases like we’re living now, you realise that the only agenda the media has is that of serving the public and the authorities.

This is coming at a cost.

It is flashing red for the media. Now, when reliable news and information are most needed, the sector is fighting it hardest battle for survival yet.

Journalists, reporters, editors and other media professionals around the world have escalated their efforts to covers stories, follow developments and keep the public updated with the latest news. But in the idiosyncrasy of sector, the more productive they have been, the less secure their jobs have become.

Media outlets have long been struggling to ensure the viability quality journalism and most independent houses today are propped up by meagre subscription fees or unstable advertising revenues. But the Covid-19 crisis has desperately evaporated these two streams as followers cancel subscriptions and businesses freeze marketing budgets.

Newsrooms have characteristically taken it on the chin and pressed valiantly ahead with researching, investigating and delivering valuable information in these extraordinary circumstances. However heroic their resolve may be, though, the financial situation remains alarmingly unsustainable and unless help materialises, we are speeding towards blank newspaper pages and extinct info portals.

It is sadly ironic that the virus emergency is simultaneously affirming the importance of media to functioning societies and threatening its existence.

Coronavirus is a shining example of how relentless journalism and communications exposes information that political leaders are ready to play down or keep hidden away. Throughout the outbreak, the media has carried the voice of experts and testified to the plight of communities in remote areas; it has been a window to the outside world to millions of people locked down in their homes. The sense of solidarity and empathy that united individuals in distant countries was primarily forged by communicators who transformed statistics into stories and facts into faces.

Journalists have been tirelessly drawing attention to coronavirus since the situation started looking volatile in Wuhan towards the end of 2019. If governments, business and families were able to take precautionary measures to limit the damage coming their way, it is only because the spread of the disease was outpaced by the spread information.

But, alas, bold coverage of the pandemic may itself have exposed the media to terminal illness.

Jesmond Saliba

Ci Consulta

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