Struggling to sustain due to the national and international lockdown necessitated by the global pandemic of coronavirus disease (COVID), which is taking the shape of an epidemic even in India, the country’s newspaper industry has sought a financial stimulus and immediate relief measures from the government so that they can survive this phase.
The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) has, in an estimate presented to the government, submitted that the industry has suffered a loss of Rs 4,000 − Rs 4,500 crore in March and April, as economic activity has almost fully collapsed, with newspapers receiving no advertisement during the months that are super-active in normal times.
The INS, representing more than 800 newspapers, says that the losses will continue at the same rate for the next six to seven months. This means an additional loss of Rs 312,000 − Rs 15,000 crore. The industry can emerge from this rut if only the government provides it with a strong stimulus, it said.
Owing to these severe losses and choking of cash flows, INS president Shailesh Gupta points out, newspaper establishments are finding it tough to even pay their employees and vendors.
According to the estimate, the newspaper industry employs more than 10 lakh people directly and another roughly 20 lakh people indirectly across the country. “Newspapers have been at the forefront of providing life-saving credible information across the country, with its personnel — including journalists, production, press and distribution vendors – at the front lines of the fight against the pandemic,” Gupta said.
High on the list of the relief measures the INS has asked for are scrapping of 5% import duty on newsprint and a two-year tax holiday. A 10% customs duty on newsprint was imposed last year, which was later halved in the last budget. Before that, newsprint, which accounts for a large share of newspapers’ cost, used to be duty-free.
The INS has further asked for a 50% increase in the advertisement rates of government’s Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC, the erstwhile DAVP) and a 200% increase in the budget expenditure for the print media. It is asking the government to extend the relief that is granted to other industries to newspapers as well.
The newspaper industry has been demanding also an immediate release of all outstanding advertising dues from the BOC and different state governments.
The INS has, detailing the unprecedented crisis in a series of letters to the government, said that newspapers the “triple whammy” of coronavirus, plummeting advertising and customs duty on newsprint had hit the industry. This has, according to the INS, led to a situation where many small and medium newspapers have already suspended publishing and others have cut pages to unprecedented levels.
The representative body of newspapers says the industry is losing money every day as, unlike other essential goods like food, milk, groceries etc, where consumers pay fully and cover the costs, newspapers cover only a small portion of their cost from the cover price. Advertisements — volumes of which have nosedived as industries and manufacturers have stopped advertising facing disruption in their own businesses — would cover the balance, the INS says.
The INS has, in its presentation, stressed that the current situation would affect the newspaper industry apart from impacting adversely a large number of employees, their families and allied industries, printing presses, distribution mechanisms, newspaper vendors and delivery boys.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation in March had said that newspapers were going above and beyond their call of duty in this pandemic, with employees from editorial and other departments including production, printing presses, and distribution vendors putting themselves at great personal risk to be at the front lines to ensure readers get life-saving and essential information day after day, in the safety of their homes.
“This also means that already stretched financial and other resources are being deployed, including very difficult calls by publishers to — so far, not shut down some editions of some of the newspapers in national interest, even though they are now loss-making, due to the very sharp fall in advertising and circulation exacerbated by the disastrous Covid-19 outbreak,” INS said.