Scottish govt unveils package for newspapers, will India follow?

The Scottish government has unveiled a £3 million advertising boost for newspapers across Scotland. The ads will appear in addition to those published as a result of the ‘All In, all together’ advertising campaign being run in newspapers across the UK by the Westminster government.

Announcing the move on Twitter, the Scottish government said the investment will “provide a valuable economic stimulus” for the newspaper industry in Scotland. The UK government said it would continue to run the advertising scheme in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Kate Forbes, pictured, Holyrood’s cabinet secretary for finance, said: “Scotland’s newspaper industry plays a vital role informing the public on COVID-19 developments and its impact. The announcement has been welcomed by Scottish Newspaper Society director John McLellan who said, “Newspapers are no different to any other business in feeling the full effects of the COVID-19 crisis, but this investment will help ensure that our publications are in a much better place to survive the crisis”.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation in March, had mentioned that the media’s activity is essential.

Newspapers are going above and beyond their call of duty in this pandemic, with employees from editorial and other departments including production, printing presses, and distribution vendors putting themselves at great personal risk to be at the front lines to ensure readers get life-saving and essential information day after day, in the safety of their homes. That had raised hopes for a stimulus for the newspaper industry.

The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) had also urged the government to release a strong stimulus package along with other relief measures to help the ailing newspaper industry tide over losses.

The newspaper industry has already suffered losses to the tune of `4,000 crore — `4,500 crore in the last two months, INS revealed in a presentation to the government.

With no advertising from the private sector or economic activity, in the next six-seven months, the industry stares at a possible loss of `12,000 crore — `15,000 crore. In the face of such tremendous losses, the industry has been struggling to disburse salaries or pay vendors. Over 30 lakh people are dependent directly or indirectly on the newspaper industry.

To avert the collapse of the industry, INS had put forth certain recommendations for the government.

“In our various communications we have requested for withdrawal of five per cent customs duty on newsprint. Newsprint cost accounts for 40 to 60 per cent of the total cost for publishers. The removal of the five per cent customs duty on newsprint will have no impact on domestic manufacturers or any ‘Make in India’ efforts,” INS said in a letter to the government. A two-year tax holiday for the newspaper firms, 50 per cent increase in advertising rate Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC) and a 100 per cent increase in budget spend for print media are the other demands put forth by INS.

Shailesh Gupta, President of the INS which represents over 800 newspapers has pointed out that due to these severe losses and choking of cash flows, newspaper establishments are finding it very difficult to even disburse employee salaries and vendor payments. As per INS estimates, over 9-10 lakh people are directly employed, while another 18-20 lakh people are indirectly employed by the newspaper industry across India.

While asking the government to extend the relief being granted to other industries to newspapers, too, INS has also sought a 50 per cent increase in the advertisement rates of government’s Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC, the erstwhile DAVP), as well as a 200 per cent rise in the budget spend for the print media. Will Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announce a stimulus for newspapers before their survival is put to stake?