A new advertisement policy is intended to tackle ‘litho’ papers but look closely and its loopholes will allow them to get through the net
IRFAN QURAISHI explains what’s wrong
SRINAGAR: Journalists in Jammu & Kashmir have expressed their dismay at the government’s new policy to tackle the bizarre phenomenon of ‘litho’ newspapers. It’s been called, at best, old wine in new bottles and, at worst, an insincere effort to end the alleged corruption in the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) over the distribution of government advertising.
‘Litho’ newspapers, as they are known locally, are printed by sundry individuals who have nothing to do with journalism. They are printed in very small numbers (maximum 100 copies) purely in order to meet the eligibility criteria of the DIPR to get government advertising. Once they get the go-ahead for this, these newspapers continue as litho papers comprising four black and white pages. They have zero circulation and readership. They exist to get government advertisements without any investment. In return for giving advertising, some DIPR officials allegedly get kickbacks from the owners. The casualty is the public exchequer.
The new policy acknowledges these bogus publications by stating categorically that ‘no litho newspaper would be empanelled for advertisement.’ But a close examination of the policy reveals loopholes which will defeat this stated intention and continue to favour newspapers that already enjoy this government patronage.
The new policy says that an Empanelment Committee will consider newspapers/magazines mainly on the basis of their circulation, production standards, content and number of pages. They will be put in four categories to ensure that eligible newspapers receive government advertisements as per the guidelines and their circulation.
Categorization of Newspapers
Circulation per publishing day for English newspapers
Circulation per publishing day for newspapers published in Urdu, Hindi, Dogri, Kashmiri, Ladakhi orany other recognized language of J&K
Newspapers with circulation of 25000 copies and above with at least four pages in colour.
Newspapers with circulation of 20000 copies and above with at least four pages in colour.
Newspapers with circulation of 15000 and above, but less than 25000 copies with at least two pages in colour.
Newspapers with Circulation of 12000 and above, but less than 20000 copies with at least two pages in colour.
Newspapers with circulation of 5000 and above, but less than 15000 copies.
Newspapers with circulation of 4000 and above, but less than 12000 copies.
Newspapers with circulation of 1000 and above copies, but less than 5000 copies.
Newspapers with circulation of 800 and above copies, but less than 4000 copies.
There are three major defects in the policy: circulation; periodicals; and television.
Circulation: A publication’s circulation claim will be accepted only if it is certified by the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) and the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). The circulation ‘certificate’ will be considered valid up to three years. If a newspaper has not been assessed by RNI/ABC, the Empanelment Committee will consider its circulation claim if it has been certified by a recognized chartered accountant and the printing press, along with the print order of the newspaper.
But simultaneously it says, “The Department of Information & Public Relations shall also reserve the right to have the figures of circulation, printing capacity, news print consumption and sale proceeds verified through any independent mechanism, in respect of any category of publications as would be considered appropriate.”
In effect, the DIPR will have discretionary powers. The Jammu & Kashmir Press Association (JKPA) says that the ‘ample powers’ given to the DIPR need to be curbed and wants the policy amended.
The other problem with circulation is the discrepancy in the policy towards newspapers applying to be empanelled for the first time and already empanelled ones. On the latter, the policy says: “The Empanelment Committee shall afresh examine the existing newspaper/periodical circulation level and recommend to the Government for placing them under the appropriate category….for release of advertisements.’’
Why is there a separate rule for already empanelled newspapers instead of having the same rule for both? Already empanelled newspapers do not need to show proof of their circulation from the ABC/RNI. Instead, the committee will use its own judgement to decide their circulation and which category they will be placed in – without having defined which yardstick will be used to make this decision. This clearly favours the papers who already enjoy government advertising.
“This new advertisement policy is likely to open a Pandora's box and it appears that it has been formulated only to give undue favour to some blue-eyed newspapers, not to bring accountability and transparency in the system,’’ said the owner of a non-empanelled newspaper who did not wish to be named.
Periodicals: Most of the ‘litho’ newspapers are weekly. The new policy fails to mention what circulation criteria will be used for deciding which weekly, fortnightly or monthly periodicals will be entitled to advertising. If their circulation was going to determine which category they fall into (and hence how much advertising they get), there would be no problem. Instead, the committee will decide how to categorise them.
Television and news portals: The policy says: “Subject to the availability of funds, the Department of Information and Public Relations may consider releasing advertisements to the electronic media, news portals which fulfill the criteria, to be determined by the Empanelment Committee, provided that the Empanelment Committee shall co-opt such experts as it deems appropriate to firm up the criteria for issuing advertisements to the empanelled electronic media, news portals.”
Critics say that this is also a case of too much discretionary power – which experts will be selected and on what basis? – being given to the committee and warn that it could be mis-used.
According to official data, as many as 622 newspapers and periodicals are published in the state out of which only 375 are empanelled for publication of government advertisements. New newspapers are still waiting to be empanelled because no empanelment meeting has been held for the past five years by the DIPR. Why? These papers are experiencing a financial crisis while the ones that are already empanelled are flourishing.
The JKPA has criticized the new policy saying it lacks transparency, will damage the newspaper industry, allows too much discretionary power, and discriminates flagrantly in favour of publications that already enjoy government advertising. The Association has said it will go to court if the policy is not changed.
Irfan Quraishi is Kashmir-based broadcast and multimedia journalist.