Skip to main content

Will 'crisis-ridden' news industry regain credibility in post-Covid-19 pandemic era?

By Nava Thakuria*
Amidst myriad devastation created by the novel coronavirus around the world, the news industry might learn to survive only if it regains credibility, proves it authenticity and accountability in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era. Earlier if these principles were claimed to be necessary for the mainstream media, now it becomes an utmost priority for its survival.
Besides news outlets, working journalists will also face the heat. As millions of people are infected with the deadly virus with thousands of casualties across the globe, once a vibrant media fraternity finds itself in an awkward situation as they start losing their readers, viewers and appreciators along with the advertisement revenues.
Most of the Indian newspapers have lost two-thirds of their circulation because of the prolonged lockdown. Many have closed down their physical papers emphasizing on digital versions. Indian news channels, many of whom are free-to-air (FTA) in nature, are growing their audience rating points, but are under stress because of reduced commercial advertisements.
Many of the channel proprietors have to manage all expenditures from running offices to paying staff salaries to productions to flawless distributions, but they cannot ask money from their viewers. as the outlets are registered as FTA news channels. 
Nearly 500 Indian channels terribly depend on advertising revenues for their survival. In reality, an enhancement to the number of viewers for an FTA channel would not automatically bring good revenues unless there is an increase in advertisement flows as well.
On the other hand, commercial advertisements are directly related to the business activities where people can afford to spend money for the propagated products. Otherwise, nobody would look at the commercials.
The largest democracy today supports over 82,000 registered newspapers with a cumulative daily circulation of 110 million estimated to be a Rs 3,20,000 million industry. Published in various frequencies, the newspapers run their business with both subscription and advertising revenues. 
As newspaper managements in India normally sell their products with lesser cover prices than the actual expenditures, they logically depend on advertisements for recovering the deficit amounts. It’s not a sustainable business model anyway.
Recently, the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), the umbrella body of over a thousand newspaper-owners, appealed to the Union government in New Delhi for a strong stimulus package to the media industry. 
INS president Shailesh Gupta argued that the advertising came to an almost halt for weeks and newsprint prices were soaring and hence newspaper economics would not work any more -- even though newspapers are claimed to be published as a dedicated public service. Terming the vibrant newspaper industry is among the worst affected enterprises in the country, he stated that it has already lost Rs 4,000-4,500 crore in March and April 2020.
Since economic activities have nearly collapsed and there is no likelihood of advertising from the private sector, the losses are expected to continue for the next few months, asserted Gupta adding that the government should also withdraw five percent customs duty on newsprint.
“Newsprint cost accounts for 40 to 60 percent of the total expenditure for publishers. On the other hand, India has to import over 50% of its annual newsprint demand of 2.5 million ton. The withdrawal of five percent customs duty on newsprint will also have no impact on domestic manufacturers,” pointed out Gupta.
He added, New Delhi should provide two years tax holiday for newspaper establishments, 50 percent increase in concerned advertisement rates and 100 percent increase in budget spend for the print media. 
New Delhi spends around Rs 1,250 crore annually for advertisements in newspapers, news channels and online media outlets
Taking advantage of the new-found financial crisis, many large media houses have resorted to retrenchment by sacking media employees, salary cuts or delaying committed packages. They also asked some of their employees to go on leave without pay citing the reason of shrinking advertising revenues. A number of journalist organizations have already raised the issue with the federal government demanding its intervention to stop these anti-employee activities urgently.
Meanwhile, a suggestion from Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi to avoid media advertisements except Covid-19 related advisories by the government for two years has angered the media industry. 
The proposal from the oldest political party for a complete ban on television, print and online advertisements by the government and public sector undertakings was reacted sharply by both INS and News Broadcasters Association (NBA). Both the organizations urged the Congress chief to withdraw her suggestion made to Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately in the interest of a healthy and free media.
Office-bearers of both the associations argued that the media must continue playing its role to update millions of readers-viewers about the pandemic along with other relevant information as they face an unusual shut-down in their lifetime. New Delhi spends around Rs 1,250 crore annually for advertisements in newspapers, news channels and online media outlets.
But India based companies invest much more money in the tune of a few billion rupees per year on advertisements. The television channels and print outlets usually enjoy the advertising benefits, but it is apprehended that the digital medium would overtake both very soon. Golden heyday for channels and newspapers is almost gone.
As the billion-plus nation has been improving its literacy rate up to 75 percent, more citizens now develop the capacity to access news items in digital forums. Slowly the mainstream media has lost its influential and also the bargaining power over their stakes. Not only for news inputs, internet is used by more and more middle class Indians, mostly the young people, for various other activities as it is fast and cheaper.
By now, the media family has been expanded as hundred thousand news portals emerged from various parts of the vast country. People with incredible obsession to journalism start practicing their passions in various internet run information outlets. 
Hence it’s understood that most of the seasoned but corrupt, senior but selfish and glamorous but irresponsible journalists would find it difficult to sustain their supremacy over the honest, hard working and committed media entrepreneurs.
Nonetheless, braving the pandemic, the traditional media will survive if it can assure the subscribers of accuracy, genuineness and reliability. They might regain older generation of audience and also create a new group of supporters. Digital media may be too fast and affordable for billions of users, but it will need few more years to be consistently viable. 
“Journalism has already made its strong presence in the social media and it has emerged as the people’s medium of expression. Covid-19 has brought a series of challenges to the mainstream media. In fact, it will wash away the garbage in the profession,” commented Rupam Baruah, president of Journalists’ Forum Assam.
He added, blackmailing, touting or personal scoring in the name of media practices will be a matter of past as the human race now eagerly waits for a noble, compassionate and all-inclusive journalism.
---
*Northeast-India based media analyst

Comments

TRENDING

Nirma varsity demand for higher fees 'illegal', violates Article 14: Letter to Gujarat HC

Counterview Desk
Students of Gujarat’s top private institute, Nirma University, situated in the outskirts of Ahmedabad, in a letter to the Chief Justice the state High Court, have complained that the authorities are demanding “full fees” from students, without taking into account the “disproportionate impact” the lockdown has on the livelihood of students and families.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Vulnerable to Covid-19, sharp rise in murder of Indian journalists during pandemic

By Nava Thakuria*
Vulnerability of working journalists in India is no way an alien issue as the populous country loses a number of working journalists to assailants as also medical emergencies. Even though there was only one casualty in the Indian media fraternity during the first half of 2020, who was targeted for journalistic work, India has begun witnessing an alarming number of media casualties during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Govt 'assures' Gujarat HC no action against MBBS students defying corona sahayak order

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government has assured the High Court that no action would be taken against Part-I and Part-II MBBS students of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC)-controlled NHL Medical College and LG Hospital and Medical College. The assurance follows the direction by Justice SH Vora to the State government not to prosecute or initiate action against the students who were defying the college authorities’ order to work as corona sahayaks (helpers).

Renounced US citizenship to serve workers, tribals, Sudha Bharadwaj 'odiously' in jail

By Atul, Sandeep Pandey*
Professor Sudha Bharadwaj has been in jail since August 2018. She was taken into police custody on August 26, 2018 on suspicion of being involved in Maoist terror activities after Republic TV claimed that she had allegedly written a letter to Maoists and was conspiring to create public disorder and unrest in India.

Ex-official: Murmu, appointed as CAG, will 'surely' perform shradh of the institution

Counterview Desk
A former senior official of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), Shantanu Basu, in a Facebook comment in the wake of the appointment of GC Murmu, a Gujarat IAS cadre official of the 1985, has raised doubts about the independence of CAG following the Government of India move.

Plant organic, eat fresh: Emlen Bage's journey from migrant labour to agri-entrepreneur

By Chandrashekar and Kriti*
Who is a farmer? Type this question in the google search and check out the images? You can see men thronging the screen. This is the popular perception around the globe. Well one can understand how difficult it would be for a woman to defy this perception.

High youth unemployment: India 'fails' to take advantage of demographic dividend

By Varun Kumar
As coronavirus pandemic continues amplifying challenges among youth with regard to employment opportunities, government policies have further resulted in economic slowdown, leading to mass unemployment and loss jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation report “Covid-19 and the World of Work” (May 27, 2020), around 94 percent of the world’s workers are living in countries with some sort of workplace closure measures in place.

Dichotomy? US Hindutva groups oppose racism, mum on Modi's 'anti-minority' stance

By Our Representative
The Hindus for Human Rights (HHR), a US-based advocacy group, has noticed a major dichotomy between the stance taken by RSS’ US arm, Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh (HSS), expressing “shock” at the “painful killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others”, all of which suggest “the tragic tale of racial injustice” in US, and HSS’ “hatred” for India’s religious minorities and Dalits.