Editorial: Media merger will strengthen democracy
Last Wednesday's shareholder approval of the merger of The Gleaner Company and the RJR Group was a monumental show of faith in a revisioning of the media landscape which will bolster the quality of journalism and protect the future of both organisations.
The shareholders' overwhelming endorsement at separate meetings is an indication of the cogency of the argument for the amalgamation of two companies with a combined history of nearly 250 years. The value of this legacy is not to be sniffed at.
We are heartened that the vast majority of stakeholders recognised how important it is for both companies not only to respond to the dynamics of modern media, but to pre-emptively establish a solid platform from which to sustain viability.
The past decade has been withering for newspapers globally, leading to the shuttering or shrinking of many publications as readership has declined with the increased reach of the Internet.
While Jamaica has not experienced the degree of erosion in advertising and circulation because of loyalty to print among a significant segment of the market and relatively low Internet penetration, we must prepare to be ahead of the curve when the trajectory ultimately shifts. The Gleaner, like other newspapers, has grappled with the challenges of the 'Net and has made crucial decisions in seeking to optimise its operations and maximise profit potential by implementing subscriptions for full access to our website and archives.
Radio, too, has been transformed into a crowded industry that has seen a mushrooming of small- and medium-scale players that have intensified competition, chipped away at the advertising dollar, and micro-divided listenership. Local television is also bracing against increased cable and Internet penetration, which gives instant access to high-quality foreign programming on demand.
But the future is still bright.
These challenges notwithstanding, The Gleaner and RJR are leaders in their spheres of influence and represent a brand of journalism that is superior to others. The impending merger will create synergies for Jamaican ownership of a major media empire spanning one free-to-air television station, three cable channels, five radio stations, and a multi-platform newspaper. It will secure public interest by cushioning the integrity of news gathering from the vulnerability that has resulted in heightened media mortality locally and internationally.
Open new frontiers
Contrary to concerns about monotony, the merger will not narrow the scope for multiplicity. In fact, it will open new frontiers for many voices and perspectives to contend and find stronger footholds in mainstream and niche markets.
The coalescence will empower both newsrooms to undertake more forays into investigative journalism and be more responsive to breaking news. These advantages go beyond the bottom-line benefits to both organisations as Jamaica's democratic traditions will be preserved and enhanced by a stronger media less likely to kowtow to pressure and more resilient in the circumstance of financial turmoil.
The Gleaner-RJR merger will unleash a welcome injection of cash that will help fund the digital switchover, which is anticipated in a couple of years, and facilitate increased investment in local radio and TV programming. Importantly, our shareholders have stakes in two strong and vibrant companies.
We believe that those few voices of opposition will shortly be convinced of the strategic sagacity of the initiative. It may even present a model of a nimbler, more independent media that other entities in the Caribbean will follow.