Emphasizing that the print media has already lost Rs 4,000-4,500 crore in the last two months with economic activities collapsing due to Covid-19, the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) has urged the government to immediately announce a two-year tax holiday for newspaper establishments and increase official advertisement rates and budget spending on the sector.
INS President Shailesh Gupta shot off a letter to Information and Broadcasting Secretary Ravi Mittal urging him also to immediately settle payment towards outstanding bills of advertising from the Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC) as well as advising various state governments to do so.
With newspaper industry among the worst affected sectors in India today with "hardly any revenue coming in" from either advertising or circulation”, Gupta said the government should provide a "two year tax holiday for newspaper establishments" beside an increase of 50% in advertisement rate of BOC and 100% rise in budget spend for print media.
"Since economic activity has nearly collapsed and there is no likelihood of advertising from the private sector, the losses are expected to continue at the same rate for the next 6-7 months (implying an additional loss of Rs 12-15,000 crore over the next 6-7 months) unless a strong stimulus is implemented by the government at the soonest," he said.
The losses already incurred have had "very severe repercussions" for 30 lakh workers – 9-10 lakh direct employment and 18-20 lakh in indirect employment, he said.
"For the last several weeks, due to severe losses and choking of cash flows, the newspaper establishments are finding it very difficult to even disburse salaries to employees and payments to their vendors," Gupta said.
The letter highlighted that newsprint accounts for 40-60% of the total cost and the removal of 5% customs duty on newsprint will have no impact on domestic manufacturers or any 'Make in India' efforts, as there is no domestic production of uncoated glazed and light-weight coated papers below 70 gsm.
"The imposition of customs duty on these grades does not offer any support to domestic industry and only burdens the publishers," Gupta said adding that newsprint consumption in India is estimated at 2.5 million tonnes and the capacity to produce in India is only around one million tonnes.
"Hence, more than 50% demand has to be necessarily met through imports. Most of the indigenous newsprint capacity is of swing in nature, which allows the manufacturers to shift to other paper grades on the basis of demand and price," he said.
He said the quality of newsprint is very important as the editions are generally closed at midnight, which leaves only 3-4 hours for printing.
"Domestic newsprint has been consistently inferior to imported newsprint in key performance areas such as tensile strength, opacity, brightness and grammage. Poor quality has deeper implications than the loss of productive time. It generates much higher production waste, directly burdening the environment," he said.
He reminded that the indigenous newsprint mills are "severely polluting" in nature and 'jeopardise' important flagship programmes like 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan' and 'Namami Gange' projects and most of them have been issued notices in the last few years to close their operations, as they have failed to comply with the prescribed environmental standards.