Greater Kashmir and Daily Excelsior that are the most read local dailies of Kashmir and Jammu region respectively were already facing the heat due to suspension of high speed internet services when a national lockdown due to Coronavirus pandemic came into force.
Both the giants like many other local newspapers may have been able to absorb the shock and financial losses after August 5 when internet services in J&K were suspended but the recent lockdown has hit them below the belt. It is not only the loss of major part of revenue due to lack of private advertisement but also hindrance of circulation in wake of a lockdown that is more stringent in Kashmir valley due to rising cases of Covid 19.
GK is the most read newspaper of Kashmir and has an online presence in many other nations where Kashmiri expatriate live. Launched in 1987 as a weekly newspaper (now daily), GK suffered a major blow in 2019 when the government stopped advertisements to the newspaper over its critical reporting against the official policies. However the advertisements were later resumed. Greater Kashmir is sold at Rs 5 per copy.
Kashmir Uzma an Urdu daily that is a sister concern of GK is also a popular newspaper especially in Muslim dominated areas of the state. Greater Kashmir group group employs more than 400 employees.
The combined circulation of both the newspapers in J&K is more than 1.25 lakh daily. While the advertisement has trickled to minimum, the circulation has also come down drastically due to lockdown as strictness has been imposed in wake of rising cases of the infection especially in Kashmir. Greater Kashmir e-paper is also popular among people.
Jammu based Daily Excelsior has become a staple diet of almost every person in the region over the time. Stated to be more than 1.50 lakh copies a day, circulation of the newspaper skyrocketed in 1990s when it started reporting on terrorism in Kashmir and plight of Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated to Jammu to escape bloodshed in valley.
It is learnt that the obituary section of Daily Excelsior newspaper to which it has dedicated a full page is one of the major sources of income to the organization. Government advertisements and its pro-BJP stand had also allowed the newspaper to sail through the difficult times in the recent past.
Rolled out by SD Rohmetra in 1965, Daily Excelsior is now run by his sons Kamal and Neeraj Rohmetra.
However the lockdown has also brought down the revenue of newspaper as no local establishments were now ready to give advertisements to newspapers. E-paper Daily Excelsior is another popular platform of the organization.
Government advertisements won’t help newspapers
Newspapers mostly depend on private advertisement as these are the major source of funds for any media house. The government advertisements released through Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) firstly does not bring much needed revenue due to its low rates and secondly the frequency of government advertisement depend on many factors. However due to the lockdown and curfew like situation, no private establishment is open due to which there is dearth of advertisements with the local newspapers.
While there are few industrial units in Kashmir valley, they would presumably not spend their capital on advertisement when the private sector is planning lay-offs during these difficult times. It is unlikely that even in Jammu, private sector would open advertisements for newspapers soon after the lockdown is over.
As per the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) nearly 380 newspapers and periodicals are empanelled for government advertisement in Jammu and Kashmir.
Newspapers may be left with no choice
It is a fact that many national newspapers including Hindustan Times, Indian Express and Times of India were cutting their monthly expenses in wake of a national lockdown. In some parts of north India, local editions of these newspapers have been temporarily shut.
Salaries of the staff has already been slashed by upto 25 percent in many of the national newspapers. Lay-offs have begun in many organizations.
The condition of local newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir is no better rather it is in a situation where many may lose jobs in coming days.
Almost all the news organizations including Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Daily Excelsior, Early Times and Kashmir Times among others are facing a financial crisis.
State Times and Early Times newspaper that also command a hold in Jammu city are facing fund crunch.
Sources said that many local newspapers have told their reporters that it would be difficult for them to pay the monthly salaries for the month of April. Some newspapers have not paid the March salary to their staff.
Circulation of most of the local newspapers has trickled and it is impossible for many of them to come out of this situation anytime early.
Number of newspapers in J&K
According to the Department of Information and Public Relations of J&K, there are at least 201 newspapers, magazines and periodicals in Jammu division whereas a total of 171 of these in Kashmir division.
Post lock-down situation
Even if local newspapers are able to survive the lockdown, the situation would no longer be the same as it was for them for a long period of time to come. Implementation of social distancing will become a norm for months to come after the lock-down ends. According to business analyst there would be many people who would not like to touch the newspaper but would prefer to read it on internet thus resulting in decline of circulation of newspapers that were already facing a touch competition from online media.
Private industry that generates a lot of advertisement for the newspapers especially in jammu would be in no mood to do the same as their priority would to undo the losses they suffered during a long lockdown.
While many of the journalists of local newspaper like Greater Kashmir and Daily Excelsior were so far working and going out on special passes issued by the government, contracting of infection by at least 53 journalist in Mumbai may cause hindrance and government may impose ban even on the movement of journalists across India.
In J&K, news today has become a major source of information for the people. Be it an encounter in some part of the state or employment, people of the state depend on newspaper (print of online). In Kashmir, news that was the only source to know about different aspects of the society is facing tough times due to lockdown and suspension of 4G internet services.
We hope that popular newspapers like Greater Kashmir and Daily Excelsior may come out of tough times soon and keep us informed about the society.