The author brings to light a Mozambican newspaper – named @Verdade – which does not follow traditional financial models, and has in turn become a “tool for change”. The name of the newspaper curiously contains an @ symbol. Their English language website can be found here.
By Roberto Valussi, 27th August, 2013
Today marks the 5th anniversary of the birth of a very rare creature in the contemporary media landscape: an independent, respected, profitable, popular and free newspaper. The square was circled not in some glitzy borough of London, but in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.
The product in question is the weekly newspaper @Verdade (‘Truth’ in Portuguese, the country’s official language), which has become the most read national newspaper since 2010, only two years after its first number was fit to print. Its slogan is ‘A Verdade não tem preço’, which translates to, ‘the Truth is priceless’.
@Verdade is more than a newspaper; as its founder Erik Charas put it, “I did not start the venture for the business or for the media aspect. My intention was to uplift the country, to contribute in order to do change.”
Charas, a 38 years old entrepreneur and engineer, has deliberately mocked one of the key mantras in the media industry: that which tells them to follow the money. By GDP per capita, Mozambique is the 14th poorest country in the world. A sorry figure, especially in the light of the immense wealth brought by its natural resources and made possible by the peace deal that in 1992 brought to an end 16 atrocious years of civil war.
Charas did not invest £400,000 out of his pocket to set up a newspaper catered to the expanding business sector. Instead, he aimed at the uplifting of the poor classes, which have one of the world’s lowest literacy rates and cannot really afford to buy a newspaper to read even for a small amount of money. As @Verdade’s website argues, “for the price of a newspaper, a person can buy eight pieces of bread, which can feed a family for a day”.
Hence, they decided to distribute the newspapers for free and rely on advertising and other ways to produce revenues. For instance: the tuk-tuks (cheap and sturdy three-wheels vehicle) used for distribution of the paper serve also as taxies, while the main newspaper distribution points also serve as private post offices.
By such means, @Verdade has managed to be sustainable. It prints around 25,000 copies every week, but it is estimated to be read by 400,000 people, a figure way higher than any other publication in the country.
As the @ reveals, the paper has a strong emphasis on internet. Its website receives an average of 2000 viewers per day and its use of social media is fundamental for keeping an open channel with the public; citizen journalism runs very high in the paper’s priority.
Despite the fact that most of the media is state-owned, the overall situation in the country is better than in others African countries. In fact, the last killing of a journalist in Mozambique took place in 2000. As Guy Berger, Director of Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO told me, “Mozambique has been a forerunner in Africa in terms of several items – such as the constitutional entrenchment of media freedom and protection of journalists’ sources”. A confirmation of his statement can be found in the World Press Freedom Index 2013, issued by Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Mozambique 73rd out of the 179 countries listed (for the sake of comparison: it is way above Greece and Israel).
Mozambique ranks less positively in another international table, the Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index. Its 123th position out of 174 reflects the endemic corruption that partially explains why the population has seen very little of the wealth accumulated over the last 10 roaring years. As the natural resource fever is set to last for years to come, independent and non-biased media actors will be needed to promote a more just Mozambique.
And @Verdade is fully aware of that. Its long term plan is to start a radio, increase its circulation and keep acting as a tool for social change. All this, for free.
Roberto Valussi has completed an MA in TV Journalism at City University in London and specialises in Lusophone Africa.
Disclaimer: InPEC’s editorial position does not necessarily subscribe to the author’s views.