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Is Government perpetuating the crisis for print media ?

Act, before this voice of free speech, is silenced forever

With the advent of satellite channels, many forecasted doom for the newspapers. Somehow the print media survived the onslaught and competed with the television channels. Then came the wave of digital media further pushing the print media towards extinction, and the trouble began for most newspapers, journals, and magazines. To make matter worse, the policies of the Government have truly pushed this media to the brink. Many are forced to close and others are barely struggling to survive.

As per a letter written by the Registrar of Newspaper for India (RNI), a body under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, two-third of publishers are not filing Annual Statements and instead pay fine for the same. This indirectly means that about 65% of newspapers are not being printed. According to the RNI letter, as per 2017-18 and 2018-19only 31,717 out of 1,18239 and 37,410 registered newspapers filed their Annual Return. RNI brings out Press in India every year by analyzing and compiling the growth of print media in the country based on the Annual Statement filed by the publishers across India. The violation of not filing of an Annual Statement by the publisher is Rs. 1000/- per financial year and many publishers prefer to pay this fine rather than filing their annual statement, which is mandatory as per the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.

This clearly means that these publishers are not printing their publications and would rather pay a fine than close down their publications.

This is indeed a very unfortunate situation in a democratic country like ours where free and independent media is considered to be the coveted fourth pillar of our democracy.

For any media, the fuel to thrive or survive is its advertising revenue. For newspapers, this all-important source is being plugged one after another and newspaper management. The notoriety of most news channels is well known when it comes to criticizing the government, in such a situation newspapers and magazines have remained the fearless voice of the common citizen. For them to face this situation is the greatest blow to our independent democratic system. The policies of the Government in this context are squarely responsible.

A major chunk of newspaper revenue comes from advertising tenders. Most smaller newspapers purely run on tenders generated by the Government. Tender Advertising has remained the bread and butter for the newspapers and magazines. The government and most of the ministries have decided to upload all tenders on the web portals, thereby stopping a large source of income for the newspapers. Fact remains that such newspapers cannot survive on circulation alone as even the private sector advertisers stay away from such publications. To make matters worse, the large publications (most of which now also have electronic channels), are constantly coming up with packages and incentives for advertisers. A chunk of government advertising still goes to large media houses, purely on the strength of their circulations.

In such a scenario, print media dying a slow death is not a very healthy sign for our democracy. The government must step forward and seek some solution to revive the small publications. Keep in mind most of these publications come from smaller towns and cities of India. For people in these towns, small newspapers are the only source of news relevant to them. Any news from such towns will hardly find a mention in the edition of a national daily.

The time has come for all stakeholders to come together and promote the cause of small newspapers, journals, and magazines. Let’s save this voice of free speech before it is silenced forever.

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