Credibility, authenticity, and accountability: Saviour of news outlets

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Credibility, authenticity, and accountability: Saviour of news outlets

Amidst myriad devastation created by the novel coronavirus around the
world, news industries might learn to survive with regained
credibility continued authenticity and most sought after
accountability in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era. Earlier if these
principles were necessary for the mainstream media, now it becomes an
utmost priority for its survival.
As millions of people are infected with the deadly virus with
thousands of casualties across the globe, once a vibrant media
fraternity finds itself in an awkward situation as they start losing
their readers, viewers, appreciators along with the advertisement
revenues. Most of the Indian newspapers have lost almost two-thirds of
their circulation because of the prolonged lockdown where many closed
their physical papers maintaining their digital versions.
Indian news channels, where most of them are free-to-air (FTA) in
nature, presently grow their audience rating points but drastically
reduce their commercial advertisements. The channel proprietors have
to manage all expenditures from production to distribution, but they
cannot charge money from the viewers as their outlets are registered
as FTA news channels. Nearly 500 Indian channels terribly depend on
advertising revenues for their survival.
In reality, an enhancement to the number of viewers for an FTA channel
would not automatically bring good revenues unless there is an
increase in advertisement flows as well. On the other hand, commercial
advertisements are directly related to the business activities where
people can afford to spend money on propagated products.
Otherwise, nobody would look at the commercials and it finally
demoralizes the advertisers.
The largest democracy today supports over  82,000 registered
newspapers with a cumulative daily circulation of 110 million
estimated to be a Rs 3,20,000 million industry. Published in various
frequencies, the newspapers run their business with both subscription
and advertising revenues. As the newspaper managements in India
normally sell their products with lesser cover prices than the actual
expenditures, they logically depend on the advertisements for
recovering the deficit amounts.
Recently, Indian Newspaper Society (INS), the umbrella body of over a
thousand newspaper-owners, appealed to the Union government in New
Delhi for a strong stimulus package to the media industry. It argued
that the advertising came to an almost halt for weeks and newsprint
prices were souring and hence the newspaper economics would not work
anymore. But even though, the newspapers are being published as a
public service, claimed INS.
Terming the vibrant newspaper industry is among the worst affected
enterprises in the country, INS stated that it has already lost Rs
40,000-45,000 million ( Rs 75= US$ 1) in March & April 2020. Since
economic activities have nearly collapsed and there is no likelihood
of advertising from the private sector, the losses are expected to
continue for the next few months, asserted INS adding that the
the government should also withdraw five percent customs duty on
newsprint.
“Newsprint cost accounts for 40 to 60 percent of the total expenditure
for publishers. On the other hand, India has to import over 50% of its
annual newsprint demand of 2.5 million tons. The withdrawal of five
percent customs duty on newsprint will also have no impact on domestic
manufacturers” pointed out INS adding that New Delhi should provide
two years tax holiday for newspaper establishments, 50 percent
increase in concerned advertisement rates and 100 percent increase in
budget spend for the print media.
Taking advantage of the new-found financial crisis, many large media
groups have resorted to retrenchment by sacking media employees,
salary cuts, or delaying committed packages. They also asked some of
their employees to go on leave without pay citing the reason for
shrinking advertising revenues. A number of journalist organizations
have already raised the issue with the federal government demanding
its intervention to stop these anti-employee activities urgently.
Meanwhile, a suggestion from Indian National Congress president Sonia
Gandhi to avoid media advertisements except for Covid-19 related
advisories by the government for two years angered the media industry.
The proposal from the oldest political party for a complete ban on
television, print and online advertisements by the government and
public sector undertakings was reacted sharply by both INS and News
Broadcasters Association (NBA).
Both the organization surged the Congress chief to withdraw her
the suggestion made to Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately in the
the interest of a healthy and free media. Responsible office-bearers of
both the associations argued that the media must continue playing its
role to update millions of readers-viewers about the pandemic along
with other relevant information as they face an unusual shut-down in
their lifetime.
New Delhi spends around Rs 12,500 million annually for advertisements
in newspapers, news channels, and online media outlets.  But India
based companies invest much more money in the tune of a few billion
rupees per year on the advertising. Television channels and print
outlets enjoy the advertising benefits till now, but it is expected
that the digital medium would overtake both very soon.
As the billion-plus nation has been improving its literacy rate up to
75 percent, more citizens now develop the capacity to access news
items in digital forums. Slowly the mainstream media has lost its
influence and also the bargaining power over their stakes. Not only
for news inputs, but the internet is also used by more and more middle class
Indians, mostly young people, for various other activities as it
is fast and cheaper.
By now, the media family has been extended as a hundred thousand news
portals emerged from various parts of the huge country. People with
incredible passions to journalism start practicing with their own
space. So-called seasoned but corrupt, senior but selfish and
glamorous but irresponsible practicing journalists will soon find it
difficult to sustain their supremacy over the honest, unprivileged, and
committed media persons.
Nonetheless, braving the pandemic, the traditional media will survive
if it can assure the subscribers of reliability, genuineness, and
responsibility. They might regain the older audience and also create a new
group of supporters. Digital media may be too fast and affordable for
billions of users, but it will need years to earn consistency. So
the trustworthiness is likely to emerge as the ultimate trademark for
any news outlet be it the print, electronic or digital.

Nava Thakuria, Guwahati.

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