Tuesday, March 22, 2016

J&K government’s new advertisement policy turns ambiguous


SRINAGAR, 22, MARCH: The much awaited new advertisement policy announced by the Jammu and Kashmir State Government recently is termed as old wine in a new bottle by the majority of newspapers owners. The new advertisement policy has again raised questions on the sincerity of authorities to put an end to the alleged rampant corruption and nexus within state information department into the distribution of government advertisement.

The new policy was expected to revise the existing Advertisement Policy issued way back in the year 1996 to scrutinize the bizarre phenomenon of bogus newspapers publishing handful of copies to attract government advertisement. Many owners of approved or unapproved newspapers call new policy as anti-newspapers and totally detrimental to the interests of the fourth pillar of the democracy. 

Pertinently after series of stories against the less visible newspapers attracting government advertisement were published in section of media, especially a detailed eye opener story titled ‘Kashmir's bogus Newspapers’ by Irfan Quraishi in February 2015 in the hoot,  the new policy was formulated by PDP- BJP government and sent for State Administrative Council (SAC) approval. The policy was recently approved and announced by the Governor N. N. Vohra led government on March 04 this month.

It is being observed that the claim of government authorities that the new policy has been formulated only to ensure justice with the newspapers which have wide circulations falls flat as this policy is full of discrepancies, loopholes and turns Ambiguous. The policy according to the media fraternity lacks a mechanism to check the circulation and to categories newspapers for the distribution of advertisement without discrepancies.

According to the new policy, the Empanelment Committee shall consider empanelment of newspapers/magazines printed and published in the State of Jammu and Kashmir mainly on the basis of their circulation, production standard, content and number of pages. Also the newspapers according to the policy have been characterized into four categories, viz A, B, C and D to ensure that deserving newspapers get advertisement as per the guidelines and their circulations. But the problem is that the mechanism set for the circulation claim is not transparent and clear. It appears that it has been formulated only to give undue favour to some selective newspapers.

As per the policy, the Circulation claim of a publication will be accepted, only if it is certified by Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) and Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). The circulation Certificate will be considered valid up to three years from the date of issue for the purpose. In case the newspaper is not assessed by RNI/ABC, the Empanelment Committee will take into consideration the claim of circulation certified by a recognized Chartered Accountant and the certificate of the Printing Press alongwith the print order of the newspaper/ periodical concerned.

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.”

The policy has empowered Information Department to the extent that it seems to be serving as Vigilance Department and not as Public Relations Office. Jammu Kashmir Press Association (JKPA) while reacting on the government’s new policy of distributing advertisement said that it is apt to cause a big dent to J&K based newspaper Industry adding that they shall be forced to knock the doors of Judiciary if due amendments are not made by the government. The JKPA adds, “The amendments also need in respect of curbing ample powers given to the Information Department, which is not acceptable.”

Meanwhile regarding the already existing empanelled newspapers, the policy mentions, “The Empanelment Committee shall afresh examine the existing newspaper/periodical circulation level and recommend to the Government for placing them under the appropriate category (A, B, C & D) for release of advertisements. But policy has failed to clear that what is yardstick that will be applied by the Empanelment Committee for placing these newspapers under the appropriate category.

This indicates the policy makers have constituted confusing and indifferent yard sticks for existing newspaper and fresh empanelment to claims their categories to get advertisement.  Possibly, every owner of the already empanelled newspaper would claim that his or her paper falls in the "A" category. “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 a owner of unapproved newspaper wishing not to be named.

And importantly, there is no mention about how much advertisement space would be given to papers of different categories. Meanwhile, the new policy has sets eligibility criteria for empanelment of newspapers and periodicals, but there is no mention of categorization of periodicals like biweekly/weekly, fortnightly, monthly. The owners of the periodicals wonder that the circulation criteria set for daily newspapers to claim their categories cannot be relevant to or applied to biweekly/weekly, fortnightly, monthly publications.

The policy also failed to define the criteria for distributing advertisements to Electronic Media and News Portals. The policy says, “Subject to the availability of funds, Directorate of Information and public relations (DIPR) may consider releasing advertisements to 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.”  

Fearing an axe on advertisement, editor, owner and publisher of a prominent newspaper in valley on condition of anonymity said that it appears that those who have formulated this policy have fooled the higher-ups. He said, “The people who seem to have devised it have ignored the basic factor which makes a newspaper popular i.e. circulation and its reach. Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps the only State in the country which lacks a mechanism to check circulation of newspapers. As a result the newspapers which are hardly visible in the market or are pro establishment get the Lion's share from the of Government advertisements”.

According to the 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. Pertinently, the newly registered newspapers are still awaiting empanelment in absence of the empanelment meeting for past five years by the information department which is a sheer injustice. “In absence of the meeting for past five years we are facing financial crisis, which is also against the government policy”, said Association of publishers of the unapproved newspapers. They said that the information department is doing step motherly treatment with them as despite the association’s proposal in this regard was in principle agreed to by the late Chief Minister; nothing was done at the avail.

Meanwhile credible sources in the Information Department said that this policy was formulated only to favour some selective newspapers as some officers of the Information Department are reaping benefits by favouring these newspapers. Sources added that still some less visible newspapers are getting monthly advertisement worth Rs lakhs adding that “If a probe is ordered into distribution of the advertisements it can open a Pandora's box”. 

 (Irfan Quraishi is Kashmir Based Broadcast & Multimedia Journalist.)

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