As it is, things were bad for the news media, especially print media. The outbreak of COVID has exacerbated the situation and provided the perfect cover for managers to guillotine publications.
From the United States, grim news of the end of ‘India Abroad‘, the voice of ethnic Indians, in the 50th year of its founding.
Founded by the Bangalorean Gopal Raju in 1970, it became part of rediff.com’s bouquet as it listed on NASDAQ. It changed hands again four years ago.
Whennewspapers struggle to survive pandemic corona virus
by Nava Thakuria
Guwahati: Newspapers inIndia face an uphill task to maintain its readership index as New Delhideclared for a complete lockdown till the middle of April because of pandemicCovid-19 outbreak in the large country. A shutdown that instantly prevented thevendors to deliver morning newspapers at their doorsteps of buyers and therumour that the paper itself can carrythe novel corona virus forced many publishers to drastically reduce theircirculation figure.
As the China originateddeadly virus started smashing almost all the countries on the planet resultingin affecting over a hundred thousand people and casualties up to few thousands,Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to front to lead the fight against the deadlyvirus. Modi in a televised address to the billion-plus nation on 24 March 2020declared a total shutdown to break the chain of infection so that the spreadingof Covid-19 can be prevented.
As the pandemic infected morethan 1000 Indians with over 25 casualties, its immediate impact was observedover the circulation of newspapers in Mumbai as the vendors ceased to work because of Covid-19 outbreak. Managements ofall print media houses after a meeting with Brihanmumbai Vruttapatra VikretaSangh resolved to suspend publications till 30 March. The decision finallyresulted in no newspaper day for the residents of Mumbai as well as Thane,Pune, Nagpur etc.
However, managements of TheTimes of India, The Indian Express, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, Mid-Day etcmade it clear that even though no physical editions would hit the stands onaccount of the new-found restrictions their newspapers would be thoroughlyavailable in the internet. Many media houses started sharing the PDF version ofcomplete newspaper free of cost. Acclaimed news magazine Outlook also suspendedits print edition pushing its digital edition available to nurture the need ofreaders.
After Mumbai, it was theturn for hundred thousand residents of Bangalore, Hyderabad along withGuwahati, Imphal, Agartala, Aizawl in northeast India to miss their favouritemorning newspapers as the local distributors decided to suspend their worksbecause of the virus outbreak. Guwahati newspaper-hawkers’ association, Manipurhawkers’ association, Tripura and Mizoram based newspaper vendors separatelycame out with the resolution that they would not distribute the newspapers forsome days.
The region witnesses thepublication of over 50 morning dailies in different languages includingEnglish, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Boro, Meitei, Karbi, Khasi, Mizo, Nagamese,Nepali, etc. Few viral posts on social media indicating the newspapers as apotential career of corona virus created panic to the newspaper agents andhawkers along with other media employees. Even many apartment societies andfamilies prevented the vendors delivering newspapers to them.
World Health Organization(WHO) has however asserted that newspapers are still safe to touch by anybodyeven though the corona virus can live on some surfaces for several days. Thepapers used in print media outlets are produced in highly automated mills andthe process hardly needs human hands. Moreover, the likelihood of an infectedperson contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virusthat causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposedto different conditions and temperature is also low, it added.
But reports relating tosuspended publication of physical editions because of Covid-19 started pouringfrom different parts of the globe. From Sylhet (Bangladesh) to Colombo (SriLanka), Rabat (Morocco) to Rome (Italy), Vatican City to Jordan, Oman, Yemencapitals along with American cities like Pittsburgh, Seattle, Missouri, WestVirginia, Lewisburg etc witness the temporary suspension of newspaperproductions. Those media outlets have already committed for entering into thedigital platforms completely.
The largest democracy in theworld today supports over 82,000 registered newspapers with a cumulative dailycirculation of 11 crore estimated to be a Rs 32,000 crore (5 billion USD) industry. As India has been improving itsliteracy rate up to 75 percent, more citizens now develop the capacity andresources to access newspapers and digital forums. More middle class Indianfamilies now start using the internet for various activities for the first timein their lives. So advertisement revenues, earlier meant for traditional media,have slowly shifted to digital platforms.
Prior to declaring the21-day nationwide lockdown to fight against Covid-19, Modi interacted with someselected media barons in the country and received suggestions from them overthe issue. It is quite amazing that Modi did not organize such interactionswith news media owners prior to the shocking announcement of demonetisation (2016),abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu & Kashmir (2019) and paving ways forthe citizenship amendment act 2019.
Even Indian Unioninformation & broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar commented, “Do notbelieve in the rumours. You will not get infected by reading newspapers. Thereis just one rule to follow — wash your hands after doing any work.” A formerjournalist Javadekar asserted that newspapers have tremendous credibility andthose can play a constructive role in the time of crisis.
Understanding the heat ofchanging social engineering, various print media houses opted for boostingtheir presences in the digital media. As millions of Indians now start usingsmart phones with internet connectivity, the media owners come to therealization that they would now prefer to get all necessary and almost freenews contents from the digital platforms rather than paying for newspapers oreven news channels. So the advertisers have also substantially shifted theirfocus to the digital media space.
It needs not to be remindedthat a newspaper in India is sold in the market at a lower price than itsactual cost. The deficit (also profit) is managed by the commercialadvertisers. They want a newspaper to reach more people (with a price or evenwithout it) so that their products get necessary visibilities. Minuscirculation, the advertisers would not support the newspapers anymore. So nodistribution of newspapers (even it is duly published) simply means lowadvertisement flow for print media outlets.
The situation can emergealarming for regional newspapers like those published from Guwahati, Imphal,Agartala, Aizawl etc, as the owners may not be able to sustain theirpublications for a longer period. It would directly impact the employeesincluding thousands of scribes in theregion. A number of media bodies came out with statements against the rumourthat newspapers can carry the corona virus. They also appealed to thegovernments to support the media houses to deal with the situation.
A host of Guwahati basedmedia houses including Asomiya Pratidin, The Assam Tribune, Dainik Janambhumi,Niyomiya Barta, Dainik Asom, Amar Asom,Purbanchal Prahari, Sadin, The North East Times, The Meghalaya Guardian etcmade a collective statement that thereis no scientific proof for newspapers carrying the corona virus to the readers.The managements also asserted that a section of electronic and social mediaoutlets spread the unauthenticated news.
But countering it, manysocial media users put a harsh question to those media houses if they could assure their valued readers ofauthenticated, credible and balanced news here after ! The world would returnto normalcy fighting against Covid-19 in some day, but will the traditionalmedia houses in the region ever get its dedicated readers back in thepost-corona era, a difficult question to be answered indeed !!
The author is a northeast India based media activist (andcontacted at +91 8486798061)