Dailies get advertisements on alternate days, revenue slashed by 50%
Srinagar, July 26: The COVID-19 seems to have provided an opportunity to the Information Department to put the last nail in the coffin of ailing local media industry in Kashmir by starving publications of the government advertisements.
After the outbreak of the pandemic the department has curtailed the advertisement distribution to most of the newspapers in the Valley by 50%. Now dailies get advertisements on alternate days. The indifferent attitude of the department has added to the unemployment as the owners and editors of the newspapers are finding it hard to run their publications due to revenue being slashed.
The department has ignored the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that there are no job losses during the pandemic. When the Prime Minister announced the nationwide lockdown in March this year, he had urged entrepreneurs not to lay off their staff and had assured all the possible help from the government.
Instead of helping the local media to sustain during the crisis, the officials of the Information Department seem to have decided to force the media houses to down their shutters. In absence of private advertisements due to COVID-19, the newspapers in the Valley were heavily banking on the department for revenue generation during these tough times but most of the media houses have been pushed to the brink.
Sources within the department told Precious Kashmir that there is no fixed criterion for distributing the government advertisements. “One has to have close proximity with the officials who distribute the advertisements. The content, circulation and other factors hardly matter. What matters is your influence,” sources said, adding that “The entire process of the advertisement distribution has gone haywire. There seems to be no accountability.”
They said that there have been clear cut instructions by the higher ups to help the local dailies that are regular and are spreading the government’s message but unfortunately these directives have been overlooked.
It appears that the department has become a “fiefdom” of a few officials and they don’t care. It seems that the pandemic has provided a chance to these officials to establish their supremacy over the media houses in Kashmir and a message is being sent out that they can do whatever they want on the pretext of COVID-19.
Replying to a text message about the criteria being followed by the Information Department vis-à-vis advertisement distribution, Principal Secretary Information Rohit Kansal wrote: “Advertisement distribution is done at Director/Joint Director level.”
Despite repeated attempts Director Information could not be contacted as she didn’t pick up the phone. Nor did she reply to the text message.
Joint Director Information Kashmir, Haris Handoo, told Precious Kashmir that the department follows a “specific criterion” while distributing the advertisements. “We check the quality, content and distribution of newspapers. We had categorized the newspapers for advertisement distribution but a few newspaper editors approached the court and got the stay.”