265 dailies and counting! Will Kashmir’s ‘media malaria’ end soon?
By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar, April 28: At 265 and counting – both in English and vernacular – Jammu and Kashmir’ summer capital could well have the largest of such ‘daily newspapers’ in the country given its population of 1.4 million.
What is intriguing about these ‘daily newspapers’ is the fact that most of them are not available at news stands in Srinagar and other places in the Valley.
Why are so many daily newspapers published in a city that does not have a readership for more than two dozen vernacular and English language dailies?
“These newspapers, which do not have sustainable readership, are published only to get government advertisements,” a top official of the state information department told media persons on condition of anonymity, given the sensitiveness of the issue.
“That finally becomes the source of sustenance for the publishers of such newspapers,” the official added.
Asked what use is an advertisement for a government department or a business establishment in a newspaper that does not have any appreciable readership, the official threw up his hands.
“You should ask that question from the publishers of such newspapers,” he finally offered.
The state government norms till 2010 stipulated uninterrupted publication of one year for a daily newspaper to become eligible for government advertisements.
There was no mention of how many copies the newspaper should publish daily to become eligible for government advertisements.
“The revised state information department policy on government advertisements is uninterrupted publication for three years. Plus, a minimum of 1,000 paid copies daily,” said the official.
He rued that out of an annual budget of Rs.22 crore (over $3 million) available for advertisements to newspapers, hardly Rs.10 crore was properly utilized in the past.
“Of the funds, just Rs.10 crore was used properly in the past as these were paid to newspapers widely read and circulated.
“The rest was paid to newspapers that did not have any reach to carry the advertisements. We could not refuse advertisements to such newspapers in the past because there was no stipulation on the minimum print order,” the official said.
“All that mattered was that the newspaper concerned should send copies of its daily publication to our office for the official record to determine eligibility for advertisements.
“The revised norms will change that scenario completely. Figures could be fudged in the past by unscrupulous publishers as receipts from newspaper distributors would be furnished as proof of daily publication,” the official said.
“An empowered committee is now planned which can check the newsprint bought by each newspaper that is to be declared at the Lakhanpur toll post in Kathua district when it enters the state”, the official added.
An interesting sidelight of the mushrooming of dailies in Srinagar has been that the majority of them are published without any offices.
“In many such cases, one computer operator works for five newspapers. All he/she does is open the Internet and start copy-pasting stories with the difference that something appearing as an anchor in one newspaper is carried as a story on the third page in the other newspaper”, said a computer operator working at one of daily newspaper office.
For obvious reasons, the operator did not wish to be named.
Some of the funniest names and some of the most intriguing publishing practices have helped sustain many newspapers in Kashmir, irrespective of whether they have a readership or not.
Given the revised norms for carrying official advertisements, would the ‘media malaria’ finally meet its antidote in the troubled Valley? Watch this space!