On April 20, around 53 of 167 journalists in Mumbai who underwent tests for COVID-19, tested positive. In Delhi, the government decided to conduct Covid-19 test on media persons in the national capital. Elsewhere in different states many journalists have been tested positive. In West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee realizing the gravity of situation said in a media address from Nabanna, the state secretariat “The journalists, are working round the clock, have no cover, neither do they have good salaries. We are extending our 10 lakh insurance cover to all accredited journalists.” Mamata Banerjee has done her bit but as journalists pull their socks to cover the spread of Covid-19, a harsh reality faces them.
The coronavirus is a global story, but it is inherently local, too. The irony is that demand for their stories has gone all time high but the revenue of media houses for which they work have gone down as all-time low. Little doubt that there are reports of payment delays, layoffs, salary cuts and closure of some centres. Some newspapers and magazines have stopped printing and are bringing out e-publications. The newspaper industry, which was already at the brink, is now facing existential crisis due to economic fallout of coronavirus and most media houses have become vulnerable to the impact of the coronavirus.
It is time the Union Government and State Governments should come to the help of these frontline warriors as they are serving the society by providing them truthful edited information even at the peril of their personal safety. The biggest issue in the next few months for media industry is going to be cash flows. The INS President Shailesh Gupta has written to Information and Broadcasting Secretary Ravi Mittal reminding him of the crisis situation dips in advertising revenue, huge input costs and import duty newsprint contributing to a crisis of survival. Gupta has said that newspapers have cut down their pages with many merging weekend supplements to the main editions.
Despite these measures, newspapers are losing money every single day. He has made a strong plea for total removal of 5 per cent customs duty on newsprint, two year tax holiday for newspaper establishments, 50 per cent increase in advertisement rate of Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC) and 100 per cent increase in budget spend for print media and immediate settlement of payment towards all outstanding bills of advertising from BOC. It is ironic that while consumers pay in full and cover the costs for essential goods like food, milk and groceries, they cover only a fraction of the cost of newspapers and the gap is made up through advertisements, which have now dried up. If newspapers suspend publishing, it would have ripple effect-job losses for employees, newspaper vendors and delivery boys. It is time; the government should come with a stimulus package to help the Fourth Estate.